The target date to grant integrated care systems (ICSs) statutory footing has been pushed back to 1 July 2022, NHS England has confirmed.
The deadline was originally set for 1 April 2022, with details about how ICSs would take over CCG’s commissioning functions given last February in the white paper for the Health and Care Bill.
The delay was granted partly to ‘allow sufficient time’ for the remaining parliamentary stages.
In its new planning guidance for 2022/23, NHSE said that the new target will provide ‘some extra flexibility’ for systems preparing for the new statutory arrangements, which would include establishing an integrate care board (ICB).
Despite the delay, it said current or planned recruitment activities for ICB leadership roles, such as chairs and chief executives, should continue ‘where this is the local preference’.
It added that regional teams should work with CCG leaders to agree arrangements that ensure people’s roles are clear during the extended phase.
However, this still ‘remains subject’ to the Bill’s passing through parliament, with new objectives based ‘on a scenario where Covid-19 returns to a low level’.
Lou Patten, chief executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners and director of the ICS Network, said what is now needed is ‘real clarity on accountability and a crystal clear framework’ to help all parts of the health system understand how they should work through the delay.
She said: ‘In particular, there are concerns that CCG accountabilities may be difficult to uphold for an extended period, especially as gaps in critical roles are bound to emerge – for example, where local committees cannot guarantee quoracy.’
The Health and Care Bill passed in the House of Commons in November, after MPs voted against amendments which would have provided greater transparency around NHS workforce numbers.
The Bill is currently being examined in the House of Lords.
ICSs told to invest in primary care workforce
Meanwhile, although the NHS is yet to issue one-year revenue allocations for 2022/23, it asked ICSs to focus on investing in their workforce, with a particular focus on the additional roles in primary care.
It also set a target for ICSs to improve timely access to primary care.
The guidance said that investing in primary care networks (PCNs) to expand capacity would increase the number of appointments available and ‘drive integrated working’ at a place level.
It also more broadly asked ICSs to ‘exploit the potential’ of digital in every NHS service.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: ‘The plan has a welcome focus on digital initiatives, including remote outpatient appointments and virtual wards, and our primary care members know that timely access to services requires a combination of both remote and in-person care.’