STRUCTURE: Two clinical commissioning groups in Kent are considering a merger in a bid to “strengthen clinical involvement” and help manage “future financial risks”.

While discussions between Canterbury and Coastal CCG and Ashford CCG are at an early stage, staff are already being consulted about the plan.

A note in Canterbury and Coastal’s June board papers stated that staff consultation on the plans had been extended by two weeks until the end of May to allow time to consider “numerous comments from staff”.

A staff vote on the proposal is due to take place in July.

The main provider for both CCGs is East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust. Both already share senior staff members including the accountable officer, chief finance officer, chief operating officer, chief nurse and head of corporate governance.

Last year both CCGs delivered surpluses, with Canterbury and Coastal at £2.4m and Ashford at £1.3m.

Ashford serves a small population of just over 120,000, whereas Canterbury and Coastal is much larger, with a population footprint of more than 204,000.

A spokeswoman for both CCGs described discussions about the “possibility of a merger” as being in the “early stages”.

“Key reasons for this [merger] include strengthening clinical involvement, removing duplication of effort across the two CCGs and being proactive in our management of any future financial risks,” she said.

“No decision has yet been made. We will not progress the idea unless we have agreement from all of our member practices and support from colleagues at Kent County Council, the local councils, our MPs and our patients.”

Ashford’s finance report for May stated that its funding allocation for 2014-15 was “marginally better than expected”, but that the 2.14 per cent cash increase guarantee from NHS England would not stretch far enough.

It added: “The 2.14 per cent growth funding is supposed to cover general inflationary pressures not specific health ones, and does not account fully for the ageing population and new technology/drug developments in health.”

The report also noted that the population was expected to grow by 1.4 per cent in 2014-15 “which leaves just 0.74 per cent to fund other pressures”.

The CCGs already work alongside neighbouring CCGs in some business areas.

All CCGs in East Kent have agreed to delay the procurement of a GP out of hours service until 2016 to coincide with a 111 procurement.