PATIENTS have been promised "things will carry on" as normal if plans to overhaul the NHS in County Durham are given the go-ahead.

Later this month, health chiefs in the county are expected to vote on proposals to merge the two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) currently responsible for care services in Durham.

If approved, this would see the existing North Durham CCG and Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) CCG become one and could cut costs by about a fifth.

Dr Stewart Findley, chief officer for both CCGs, said: “In some ways, the benefits are over stated in Durham because we’re already working closely together and most of the benefits we will get from a full merger we have already had at a county-wide level.”

He added: “I think for patients things will carry on pretty much as they have been, we might try to bring some of our bases together so we have staff working more closely together.

“But I think it’s up to us to make sure there’s no dilution of the voices of our patients in this new arrangement.”

Dr Findley was speaking at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Merger plans are due to go before the CCGs governing bodies for consideration later this month and if approved could be implemented by April.

He also explained the latest NHS Long Term Plan was pushing CCG’s across the country to merge along the lines of new Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs) – groups of care providers such as hospitals, GPs and even social care providers, working together.

A "Central ICP" is planned covering DDES and North Durham CCGs, as well as Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Dr Findley added: “The focus will move away from the bean counting we’ve been doing, moving away from performance contracts where hospitals are paid for every operation they do, because that has not necessarily led to the best outcomes for patients."

“We’re looking at more block contracts, where there’s less need for contract management.”

Under the payment by results system, hospitals and other providers are paid by the number of treatments or operations they perform.

Under a block contract, which is often applied to a broadly defined service, such as acute care, value is fixed, or partly fixed, over a set period of time.