The reconfiguration of clinical services: What is the evidence?

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The reconfiguration of clinical services continues to generate public and political controversy, locally and nationally. Given significant financial and workforce constraints, now and in the future, pressure to reconfigure services is only likely to increase. But what are the key drivers of reconfiguration and what is the evidence to underpin it?

This paper aims to help those planning and implementing major clinical service reconfigurations ensure that change is as evidence-based as possible. It investigates the five key drivers – quality, workforce, cost, access and technology – across 13 clinical service areas, summarising the research evidence and professional guidance available in each. It builds on a major forthcoming analysis of reviews of service reconfigurations commissioned by the National Institute of Health Research and conducted by the National Clinical Advisory Team (NCAT). 

Key findings

  • The evidence did not suggest that reconfiguration, including moving to a more community-based model of care, will deliver significant savings.
  • Improvements in quality can be achieved through reconfiguration, but these are greater for specialist services, and service improvement strategies may deliver more significant improvements.
  • Availability of experienced medical and nursing staff is shown to be important, but there is limited evidence on how many staff are needed, of what type and over what time period.
  • There is no ‘optimal design’ for local services; their configuration will depend on the local context and the specialty-specific balance between access, workforce, quality, finance, and use of technology. 
  • The balance between access, workforce, quality, finance and technology will play out differently for patients with different levels of clinical risk and complexity. 
  • Those planning services need to look across the full care spectrum to ensure the most efficient distribution of services, to remove duplication, and to ensure that patients receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time. 
  • Proposals should be underpinned by detailed workforce and financial plans with supporting service improvement strategies.

Policy implications

  • More resources need to be invested (locally and nationally) in evaluating the impact of service reconfiguration, with comparative analysis of different models of care – and particularly their impact on quality and cost.
  • Proposals need to emerge from a process based on strong engagement from clinicians, the public and politicians.

Funding acknowledgement

This publication draws on research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research Programme (project number 12/5001/59).


Vincent Aloo

Program Officer,
Comment date
27 April 2018

The addition of new roles should include quality, workforce and access. Access can be enhanced by providing community outreaches or decentralization of services.

a abraha

surgical assistant,
Comment date
04 January 2017
for reading

Margaret Coles

Comment date
29 January 2015
That's why prevention and promotion of health and well-being should be the first priority of all sectors of health care. The key factor is activity. in my opinion ( obviously) physiotherapists skilled in movement and motivation should play key roles in any strategy of the future of health care and across all sectors.

Minesh Khashu

Consultant Neonatologist & Prof. of Perinatal Health,
Comment date
28 November 2014
I think we ought to compare reconfiguration in terms of a structural change versus process redesign. Significant improvements in quality of care can be achieved by increased use of automation and technology which is currently available and used in other sectors.

It is also worth exploring a model of health and social care involving a single organisation covering a geographical area and population of 1-2 million and encompassing what today may be 1-2 acute care providers, 1-2 community trusts, sets of GP practices, local councils etc. This is the only way patients can get seamless care and we can make a shift to preventive health and wellness paradigms.

Michael Crawford

Consultant Medical Oncologist,
Comment date
27 November 2014
I came upon this item when I returned to my office after giving the Trust’s monthly lecture. My subject was “Poor country folk and cancer.” It drew on published work that I have done with a team from the University of East Anglia.
Impaired access to diagnosis and treatment could be demonstrated very strongly for older and poorer people. Especially for poorer people services tended not to be used if they were further away from the residence; this applied strongly to the specialist services like thoracic surgery and radiotherapy but also to more local services in the acute general hospital and even distance to the GP surgery had an effect in respect of those who lose out completely, being diagnosed as “metastatic cancer site unspecified” (ICD10 C80).
When looking at how services are configured the question that should be addressed with the highest priority is: “How can equity of access be assured for people who live in deprived neighbourhoods compared with their better off compatriots?” I suggest comparing service use among those living in super output areas of Index of Multiple Deprivation >20 with those with IMD

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