A HEALTH watchdog has given a cautious welcome to a move to merge 51 GP practices responsible for the planning and purchasing of the vast majority of health services for 423,000 residents.

North Yorkshire scrutiny of health committee chairman Councillor Jim Clark said he hoped the merger of cash-strapped clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) covering Hambleton, Richmondshire, Scarborough, Ryedale and Harrogate districts would help tackle the county’s NHS deficit, which is projected to be £31m this year despite radical cutbacks.

In a meeting today, the CCGs governing bodies are expected to approve a move to submit a merger request to NHS England to be operational as one North Yorkshire CCG from April next year.

The CCGs have reported “significant capacity constraints” and have said it is clear that “different ways of working” are necessary to address the issues.

The move comes just six years after the CCGs replaced a deficit-laden primary care trust, amid hopes the GPs’ groups would make the county’s NHS system work within available funding.

Cllr Clark, a retired accountant, said while the merger was “a step in the right direction”, but added it would create a “bureaucratic nightmare” as the NHS was also introducing another area-based system - integrated care - to organise healthcare provision.

He said: “You are going to have three CCGs merging into one, but they will be dealing with three different integrated care systems, one which covers northern North Yorkshire that covers the area to the Scottish border, while the Harrogate area will be covered by West Yorkshire and Ryedale is covered by Humber coast.

“Service provision at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton is a big issue in North Yorkshire, but when you look at that in the context of hospitals in Leeds, Hull and Newcastle, they will be the focus on those integrated care systems. I welcome that they are merging and hopefully they will have a better decision-making process and efficiencies, but there should just be in one integrated care system for the CCG and once they are merged they should look at the one that best serves their needs.”