Bedford Borough Council declares its opposition to clinical merger plans

Putnoe Medical Centre
Putnoe walk-in centre could be more vulnerable if healthcare decisions are made more remotely

A fear of remote, unresponsive decision-making and closure of local services has led Bedford Borough Council’s executive to declare its opposition to the merger of the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups.

The position was agreed following a presentation on the project to merge the bodies responsible for planning and commissioning local healthcare services and Mayor Dave Hodgson has called for a public consultation.

To comply with national Government policy, the ‘One BLMK CCG Programme’ is being pursued by the CCGs in Bedfordshire Luton and Milton Keynes.

The report to the Council’s Executive outlined the extensive work that has already taken place on the merger.

Mayor Dave Hodgson stated his opposition to the plans and said that while a consultation may not legally be required, he is calling for one because local people deserve to have a real say on the matter.

Planning and commissioning healthcare services in Bedford Borough is currently the responsibility of Bedfordshire CCG, covering Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire, and the merger plans would see one CCG covering the whole of Bedfordshire (including Luton) and Milton Keynes.

Several Executive members raised concerns over the impact of more remote decision-making on healthcare services in Bedford.

Councillors Christine McHugh and Michael Headley noted that a more distant CCG is likely to be less responsive to local communities, and that this could have harmful consequences for crucial issues such as Putnoe Walk-In Centre, the long-term future of which is still in question after a previous attempt by the CCG to close it.

“I am disappointed that NHS England have directed CCGs to merge – and it’s not just Bedfordshire CCG, this is a big reconfiguration of commissioning structures up and down the country,” said Cllr Louise Jackson, portfolio holder for public health & wellbeing

“This rearranging of deck chairs has been happening at least since I was first elected as a Councillor in 2011.

“It’s difficult to see what formally merging will achieve, especially at this difficult time – the CCG was already working closely with neighbouring commissioners.

“People just want to be able to access good, local healthcare services. It’s vital that the Bedford Borough focus is not lost in the new larger structure and I am committed to building on the relationships I have with local CCG colleagues to ensure that the interests of Borough residents remain at the forefront.”

Bedford Borough Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Cllr Dean Crofts raised questions over the merger at the meeting, and commented after, “The merger plans move decision-making over healthcare services further away from the communities affected.

“This report detailed how far down this road they are already, pursuing a government policy which frankly will make local services more vulnerable to cuts and closures.

“Locally we have seen vital facilities such as the Putnoe Walk-In Centre and Bedford Hospital placed under threat in recent years, and these changes would only make them more vulnerable to future threats.”

Members of the public can read the CCG’s report to Bedford Borough Council’s Executive at Item 7 on the agenda, and watch a video recording of the meeting here.

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