Devolving healthcare services redesign to local clinical leaders: Does it work in practice?

Storey, John; Holti, Richard; Hartley, Jean and Marshall, Martin (2019). Devolving healthcare services redesign to local clinical leaders: Does it work in practice? Journal of Health Organization and Management, 33(2) pp. 188–203.



The purpose of this article is to present the findings arising from a three year research project which investigated a major system-wide change in the design of the NHS in England. This radical policy change was enshrined in statute in 2012 and it dismantled existing health authorities in favour of new local commissioning groups built around GP Practices. The idea was that local clinical leaders would ‘step-up’ to the challenge and opportunity to transform health services through exercising local leadership. This was the most radical change in the NHS since its inception in 1948.

The research methods included two national postal surveys to all members of the boards of the local groups supplemented with 15 scoping case studies followed by six in-depth case studies. These case studies focused on close examination of instances where significant changes to service design had been attempted.

We found that many local groups struggled to bring about any significant changes in the design of care systems. But, we also found interesting examples of situations where pioneering clinical leaders were able to collaborate in order to design and deliver new models of care bridging both primary and secondary settings. The potential to use competition and market forces by fully utilising the new commissioning powers was more rarely pursued.

The findings carry practical implications stemming from positive lessons about securing change even under difficult circumstances.

The article offers novel insights into the processes required to introduce new systems of care in contexts where existing institutions tend to revert to the status quo. The national survey allows accurate assessment of the generalisability of the findings about the nature and scale of change.

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