Sussex NHS Commissioners has been praised for making “marked improvements in quality of care”; a “strong response to Covid outbreaks including the first cases in the UK”; and for the “consistent strong performance in vaccinating the Sussex population”.

The health body, that plans and pays for the majority of health services in the area, brings together the three clinical commissioning groups (ccgs), including NHS Brighton and Hove CCG, NHS East Sussex CCG and NHS West Sussex CCG.

The comments come as part of an annual assessment by the health regulator, NHS England and Improvement. The 2020/21 Year-End Assessment process this year was ‘light touch’ to relieve some administrative burden on NHS organisations, whose primary focus over the past months has been in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering life-saving vaccinations to millions of people. As part of the review, CCGs were assessed on performance on improving the quality of services; reducing inequalities; engagement and consultation with the public; finance; and leadership and governance.

The three clinical chairs representing the CCGs – Dr Andrew Hodson for NHS Brighton and Hove; Dr David Warden for NHS East Sussex CCG; and Dr Laura Hill for NHS West Sussex CCG – said:

“We feel overwhelmingly proud of the way our staff have responded to the immense challenges of the past 12 months.

“While it was incredibly hard, 2020/21 will go down as the year in which we saw the most phenomenal response from our people to care for all of our patients and our most vulnerable residents, and to keep our population and workforce as safe and as well as possible through an extraordinary time. People truly came together in a time of crisis to care for, treat and protect our population.

“It cannot be said too many times – thank you to everyone across our CCGs and the wider Sussex health and care system. We are pleased to see these collective efforts and the outcomes achieved by the CCGs are fully recognised in the annual assessment.

“We will continue to do all we can to ensure the people of Sussex have access to the best possible health and care services, when and where they need them.”

The year end (2020/21) assessment letter sent to the organisation states:

“Sussex has made significant progress as a health and care partnership over the last four years, as evidenced by marked improvements in quality of care, productivity and delivery of strategic change. Continuing this progress during the pandemic is testament to CCG and whole system leadership and the maturity of the ICS partnership.

“Of particular note, Sussex has continued to make significant progress in strengthening relationships between NHS, local authority and voluntary sector partners. This has enabled a strong response to Covid outbreaks including the first cases in the UK, in managing periods of surge during the peaks of the pandemic, and in consistent strong performance in vaccinating the Sussex population and service restoration.

“There has been good community engagement within the constraints of the pandemic. The CCGs have played a key leadership role throughout.”

It goes on to note that the “ongoing work to target vulnerable adults and communities to ensure COVID-19 vaccine take up is exemplary”; as well as the “considerable achievements” in increasing the number of health checks for people with learning disabilities and/or autism; and highlights the “pioneering work” to reduce inequalities among BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities and the BAME workforce across Sussex.

The letter also describes a number of areas in which the Sussex NHS is working through improvements for the benefit of patients, including access to mental health services; pressures on urgent and emergency care, particularly in the Brighton area; and waiting times for cancer patients.

Sussex NHS Commissioners serves around 1.7million residents and covers an area that includes 180 GP practices.

The assessment is the final one the Sussex CCGs will receive before they transition to work as part of Sussex Integrated Care System (ICS) in April 2021, in line with national changes to the NHS as part of the new Health and Social Care Bill.