Three clinical commissioning groups have decided to merge, in the first such move since CCGs became statutory bodies in April last year.

Gateshead, Newcastle North and East, and Newcastle West CCGs have been working closely in an alliance since they formed, and share management structures including a chief officer and finance director.

However, each of the three CCGs has now decided they want to merge into a single statutory organisation. To do so their plans must be endorsed by NHS England.

There has been significant speculation in the health service about the likelihood of mergers among the current 211 groups, and some commentators believe many of them are too small.

The Newcastle and Gateshead CCGs believe a merger will reduce running costs and make it easier to make decisions about health services across the patch in future. The new CCG would have a population of nearly 500,000.

The CCGs have begun a process of engaging stakeholders. They plan to apply to NHS England for approval in June and hope to merge in April 2015.

A letter from Mark Adams, the joint chief officer of the three CCGs, to others in the health economy, sent this week and seen by HSJ, says: “Having come to that conclusion work will now commence with the member practices to understand how a merged organisation would be governed and managed on a day-to-day basis. 

“An important part of that process will be engaging with key partners and stakeholders to discuss how a new organisation would work and in particular how it would maintain a very focused approach to delivering improved outcomes for the public and patients of Gateshead and Newcastle.”

Amanda Doyle, co-chair of the NHS Commissioners representative body for CCGs, said she was not aware of any other CCGs looking to merge. “A lot of CCGs feel the benefit of sharing infrastructure and sharing management costs. Whether that then leads to them formally merging, I don’t know yet,” she said.