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Fears that Birmingham health services may be cut to pay Solihull's debts

MPs want assurances that plans to merge health services won't lead to cuts for Birmingham patients

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Birmingham and Solihull NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups are likely to merge

Plans to merge health authorities could lead to cuts in services for Birmingham patients to pay off debts in Solihull, MPs claim.

Birmingham MPs have asked the Government for reassurances about plans to merge two Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Groups, the bodies which fund NHS services, with the Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The Solihull CCG ended the last financial year £16 million over budget, and is believed to be on course to go up to £6 million over budget this year.

But MPs say that merging the bodies could mean health funding gets transferred from Birmingham to Solihull in an attempt to balance the books - and this would have “a devastating impact on the provision of health resources in Birmingham”.

MP Steve McCabe (Lab Selly Oak) said: “We simply can’t afford to transfer any of our health funds to another area.”

The warning came in a joint statement from Mr McCabe and MP Jack Dromey (Lab Erdington).

Clinical Commissioning Groups are bodies led by doctors and other health professionals and set up by the Government. They are given a budget, and buy services on behalf of patients from NHS services such as hospitals.

Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe
Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe

There are 209 of them in England and they have a total budget of £71.9 billion, two thirds the total NHS budget.

Local health professionals have drawn up plans to merge Birmingham Cross City CCG, Birmingham South Central CCG and Solihull CCG, to create a new large body serving more than 1.5 million people.

The MPs said they weren’t opposed to a merger because it might lead to less money being spent on administration and more going directly on patient care. But they said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Chancellor Philip Hammond must provide “cast iron guarantees” that it wouldn’t lead to cuts in health funding for Birmingham.

Mr Dromey said: “We are not going to accept a situation where the deficit is tackled for one year and the people of some of the poorest parts of Erdington end up picking up the bill for the health of rather wealthier Solihull residents in subsequent years.

“That would be plain unfair. I support the principle of the merger but I’ll need some solid guarantees from NHS England and the Secretary of State before this plan gets my blessing.”

Birmingham Mail Jack Dromey
Jack Dromey

Mr McCabe said, ‘I have always thought we were wasting money with too many commissioning groups but we wouldn’t be doing our job if we let this proceed without knowing all the figures.”

The Chancellor had promised to make money available for health services to help them make changes, set out in plans called Sustainable Transformation Plans, said Mr McCabe.

“If he’ll guarantee us some of that cash, we’ll work with others to make this succeed - but only if he guarantees that people in Birmingham don’t lose out. We simply can’t afford to transfer any of our health funds to another area.”

Paying off a deficit of £5 to £6 million would be the equivalent of the cost of 5-6000 emergency admissions, they said.

A spokesperson on behalf of NHS Birmingham CrossCity, Birmingham South Central and Solihull CCGs said: ““Subject to the necessary approvals, if the proposal progresses to create a new commissioning organisation, we would expect there to be a single financial allocation for Birmingham and Solihull. Local budgets would be based on the needs of the population and would be subject to local decision making.”

The spokesperson also said: “The three clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Birmingham and Solihull are working towards developing a new single NHS commissioning organisation by April 2018, subject to approval.

“CCGs are NHS organisations that are responsible for planning and buying healthcare services, on behalf of their local populations.

“NHS Birmingham CrossCity, Birmingham South Central and Solihull CCGs are undertaking the work to make significant improvements to health and wellbeing for the people of Birmingham and Solihull.

“Speaking with one voice for Birmingham and Solihull, the new organisation is looking to lead the way in commissioning, with expertise to make continuous improvements to the quality of local NHS services.”

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