Concerns raised over potential merger of Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham health bodies

NHS chiefs have hinted at the possibility of a new organisation to oversee care covering Sunderland, South Tyneside and County Durham.

The area, which has a combined population of more than 900,000, is covered by four separate clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) responsible for providing health services.

But after the CCGs for Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) and North Durham confirmed they were considering forming a single group, the possibility of more mergers has been raised.

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Dr Stewart Findley, chief officer of the Durham CCGs, said: “Our conclusion is the merger of the two Durham CCGs would make sense.

“The danger with us if we merge in Durham is South Tyneside and Sunderland, which are not ready to merge yet but are working more closely together.

“If we form one CCG with South Tyneside and Sunderland it means potentially a lot of work we’ve done now will have to be done again.”

Dr Findley was speaking at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

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The proposed merger of the two Durham CCGs is expected to cut costs by about a fifth.

It has been prompted by the latest NHS Long Term Plan, which calls for CCG’s across the country to merge along the lines of new Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs) – groups of care providers such as hospitals, GPs and even social care providers, working together.

Coun Owen Temple called the suggestion of closer ties between County Durham, Sunderland and South Tyneside an ‘acceptance of the new geography’.

Current ICP plans put the three into a ‘Central ICP’, splitting the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, with Darlington allocated to a ‘Southern ICP’ with Hartlepool and Teesside.

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Dr Findley added: “In DDES we work very closely with Darlington and patients in DDES are as likely to go to Darlington as to Durham hospital, so I think there is a lot of logic in working with Darlington.

“But among the GPs in Darlington, their desire seems to be to work more closely with Teesside and the work with the ICP is pushing for greater collaboration of Darlington, South Tees and James Cook [University Hospital].”