His comments came in an evidence session with MPs after the NHS long-term plan, published on Monday, suggested major organisational reform was on the way.
The long-term plan revealed that integrated care systems (ICSs) would be rolled out across England by April 2021, 'growing out of the current network of sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs)'. There are just 44 STPs, and the long-term plan said there would be typically 'a single CCG for each ICS area', with CCGs set to become 'leaner, more strategic organisations'.
In a House of Commions public accounts committee (PAC) meeting on Wednesday, committee member Gareth Snell MP asked Mr Stevens whether the plans meant there would be ‘significantly fewer’ CCGs in England - citing the figure of ‘around 44' to match the number of STPs.
Mr Stevens confirmed: ‘In all likelihood, yes.’ However, he insisted: ‘We haven’t declared a number of that nature. We don’t think it would be the right thing to pull a number out of the air like that.’
When questioned by Mr Snell over the ‘level of expected redundancies through job losses or mergers’ as a result of the reduction in CCG numbers, Mr Stevens confirmed there would be a ‘natural churn’ following a ‘phased cost takeout’.
But Mr Stevens added that 'there are some vacancies in some organisations anyway so that offsets the redundancy numbers'.
According to the long-term plan, CCGs will ‘become leaner, more strategic organisations that support providers to partner with local government and other community organisations on population health, service redesign and long-term plan implementation’.
Also speaking at the PAC meeting, DHSC permanent secretary Chris Wormald said: ‘One of the challenges with creating NHS reform over the decades has been creating very firm plans with very firm numbers that are then fixed in stone until somebody reforms them again.
'Having a system where there is a much more continual state of evolution… certainly seems to me like a much better type of reform for a sector of this size and complexity than for Simon to sit there and say the exact number of CCGs is ‘X’… I would much rather have a system that was in a much more continuous slow state of evolution.’
The long-term plan’s five-year funding allocations for CCGs in all areas of England are expected later today.