England's 211 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are entering a highly crucial phase of their development. This month, many of the GP-centered leadership bodies will start to jointly commission GP services alongside NHS England for the first time.
This move is aimed at further developing a more integrated model of local care that will greatly benefit patients, but it will also usher in fresh challenges for CCGs. For this reason, the tools they use to help them perform what is an increasingly pivotal role in the government's reformed NHS are due to face closer scrutiny. In addition, the successes and failures of CCGs will remain under the spotlight for the duration of the general election campaign and the initial stages of the next parliament.
CCGs need to collaborate, but in many different ways. They must foster strong collaborative relationships internally and externally in order to complete everyday tasks, while their collaboration requirements also extend into more formalised procurement and stakeholder management exercises. Given the financial pressures that continue to affect the entire health service, it seems the clear cost advantages of collaboration in the cloud could provide a solution.
Here are three ways that using a cloud collaboration platform can benefit CCGs and ultimately support their goal of improving patient care.
1. Helping people to work together
CCGs are essentially collaborative networks of local GP practices and other healthcare providers, so the ability for GPs to collaborate effectively will always be vital to their success. While some CCGs consist of just a handful of practices, the larger groups in urban areas can include at least 50 or 60 different surgeries. All these GP practices must be able to communicate and share documents are easily as possible.
At the next level up, CCGs function as part of a complex network of interdependent agencies that make up the reformed health service. The local authority, HealthWatch, local hospitals, mental health providers, the voluntary sector, adult social care and other specialist services - all of these are CCG stakeholders that have varying requirements. CCGs can simplify the management of these different relationships by designating a central place to share resources, collaborate on documents and hold discussions. Creating an independent workspace in the cloud makes sense because each organisation is likely to have its own firewall and procedures that can restrict the sharing of files via intranets.
2. Supporting governance and transparency
Conflicts of interest are expected to arise more frequently as CCGs take on an extended role in primary care commissioning. This is because they will be responsible for making decisions on GP services for the first time.
In January 2015, a Nuffield Trust and Kings Fund report highlighted the possibility that CCGs could be asked to make decisions in which they have a vested interest, as GPs will have a role in both provision and commissioning. However, some CCGs are already taking steps to solve this problem by assigning responsibility to non-GP board members. At the end of 2014, NHS England published guidance for the formation of 'decision-making committees' within CCGs that must include a lay chair and a majority of lay and executive members.
The Nuffield Trust commented: "In order to maintain buy-in from members, external organisations and the public as they take on additional commissioning responsibilities, CCGs need to ensure that they are able to demonstrate transparency in their governance processes."
Again, the capabilities of cloud collaboration tools are closely aligned with the needs of CCG here. A central cloud workspace supports transparency by ensuring the latest versions of important documents are always accessible to everyone - or at least everyone who is authorised to see them. Furthermore, a collaboration platform like Kahootz contains committee room functionality, with secure workspaces specifically designed to enable decision-makers to collaborate between meetings.
3. Managing procurement
Under the clinical commissioning framework, it is the responsibility of CCGs to tender for new and replacement services when necessary, in response to patient demand. It's therefore essential that CCGs understand the procurement process.
As this is unfamiliar territory for GPs, some groups have sought help from external commissioning support units to manage procurement. However, every CCG must be familiar with the legislative requirements of their procurement activities because they are ultimately accountable, even if a partner carries out the work on its behalf.
Some cloud collaboration tools have the specialist functionality to support procurement exercises in a cost-effective and streamlined manner. Complete transparency is maintained because there is a full audit trail of workspace activity, while it's quick and easy to share documents with all prospective suppliers. For example, all suppliers are automatically notified whenever a document is added or amended - saving valuable time and resources for CCGs involved in complex procurement exercises.