PLANS to transform the way health and social care services are provided in Cheshire have been given support from residents.

More than three-quarters of respondents to an NHS survey have backed the proposed merger of Eastern Cheshire, West Cheshire, Vale Royal and South Cheshire clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – the groups which plan and buy healthcare services in Cheshire East and West boroughs.

Clare Watson, accountable officer for the four Cheshire CCGs, said: “The four Cheshire CCGs share an ambition to bring together the commissioning of health services across the county.

“We’re determined to ensure that the people of Cheshire can access consistently good care – wherever they live – and to work together to deliver the priorities outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.”

Health chiefs are keen to see the CCGs merge to provide more equal access to healthcare across the two boroughs, reduce duplication and give Cheshire a stronger voice for funding bids and commissioning opportunities.

At the same time, two ‘integrated care partnerships’ (ICPs) would be set up – one for each borough – with the aim of pooling resources for health and social care and making sure the two services are working well together.

It is hoped the move would free up extra resources for front-line health and social care services.

And the priorities for spending that cash would be set by local ‘care communities’, with the aim of providing patients with access to care and support which is closer to home.

Residents living across the Cheshire East and West boroughs were invited to take part in the survey from May 28 to June 23.

Out of the 376 respondents, 76.5 per cent supported the creation of a single Cheshire CCG in April 2020, while 70.5 per cent supported the development of two ICPs taking place at the same time.

Support for the merger was stronger in mid and south Cheshire – where 97 and 93 per cent backed the move respectively – compared to 70 per cent in east Cheshire and 65 per cent in west Cheshire.

Meanwhile, 80.3 per cent of respondents agreed that the four current CCGs should share decision-making processes, while 85.3 per cent said the CCGs should look for new opportunities to plan and buy services together before next April.

There was praise for the joined-up approach being proposed for health and social care, as well as the chance for communities across the county to work closely together.

However, there were some concerns that patients in rural areas could be overlooked in favour of those in major towns, while there were some questions on whether limited cash would be used effectively.

One respondent said: “I’m concerned that money will be moved to plug debts in other parts of the county removing services from areas that have worked hard to manage their resources.”

Another said: “Concern that patients in rural areas will not get the same access to services to those in more ‘city location’ where sometimes the need is considered as greater.”

A third added: “Great for clinical efficiency, however I have a real concern about access – how will people without their own car or transport access services across a large rural area?”

GP practices are now able to vote on whether to go ahead with the CCG merger by September 20, and the result will be announced after September 26.

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Ms Watson added: “We’d like to thank everyone who took part in the public engagement period and for all of the feedback received.

“I take our responsibility to listen to your views and prioritise the things you tell us are important extremely seriously.”