How to start investigating Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs)

This week, Help Me Investigate embarks on a significant project to investigate the new bodies which will control £60m of public health spending in England: Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). 

As part of that project, we’re publishing a guide to getting started. Here it is:

Following CCGs across local newspapers and blogs

If you’re going to start scrutinising a field, it’s very useful to be kept up to date with developments in that field:

  • Concerns raised in one local newspaper may be checked elsewhere; 
  • Specialist magazines may provide guides to jargon or processes that helps save you a lot of time; 
  • Politicians might raise concerns and get answers; 
  • And expert bloggers can provide leads and questions that you might want to follow up.

Rather than checking a list of websites on the off chance that one has been updated, a much more efficient way to keep up to date on what’s happening is to use a free RSS reader

RSS readers pull in ‘feeds’ from a range of sources: newspapers and magazines, blogs, and searches across multiple sites, FOI requests, and parliamentary questions. You can also get mobile apps so you can quickly scan the latest feeds when you’re on the move.

Google Reader is probably the most widely-used RSS reader, and I’m going to use that for this walkthrough. At the end I’ll provide a bunch of feeds that you can subscribe to with two clicks, too, so you have a head start.

Finding your feeds

I’ve written separately about 7 ways to follow a field you want to investigate, and the principles are much the same. With CCGs you will want to follow some or all of the following:

National newspaper health sections or correspondents – most of the reports in the national press and broadcast media will not be relevant, but you can scan easily past them. Every so often, however, you will find out about a new report, initiative, or concern that’s being picked up by their reporters.

Specialist health media – the health industry is not one single profession, and you can find publications catering for numerous parts in it, from magazines for GPs, to the Nursing Times,, Health Service Journal, British Medical Journal, Pulse, and so on. Follow the feeds from these and others that you find – coverage is typically earlier, deeper, and more explanatory than in more general media (you also get specialist sections, such as Pulse’s on commissioning at or Health Service Journal’s.


Local health news – some newspapers have no health correspondent at all or the role is combined with other coverage. Rather than try to subscribe to every newspaper or journalist individually, go to Google Alerts and create an alert for “Clinical Commissioning Group” (change ‘Result type’ to ‘News’) – you can subscribe to an RSS feed of that alert. (You can also search for ‘CCG’ but note that this also means ‘Collectible Card Game’ and ‘Colour Changing Glass’ so add -game or -glass to your search to try to exclude these results)


This search might also bring up any report or research that mentions that phrase – as long as it’s been reported, but you can change the result type from ‘News’ to ‘Everything’ if you want to include results on Google more generally.

Experts and individuals on blogs – a number of health professionals maintain blogs where they provide an insight into how changes in the NHS are affecting them, or analysis of data and other documentation surrounding changes. You can use a specialist search engine like IceRocket (or Google Blog Search) to find these, and subscribe individually – but more effective will be looking for a list of blogs maintained by someone in that network. Look for these in the outside column under ‘Blogroll’ or ‘Links’. You’ll find that one blog may lead you to lots of others, which in turn link to others. Start with The Jobbing Doctor, for example, and see where those links take you.

Don’t be limited to one network, however. To get a variety of sources try to find people from different parts of the system. For example, is written by those working within CCGs. And Dilys Jones Associates is a firm of consultants which deals with clinical commissioning (or at least has written about it more than once).

Formal bodies – The Department of Health, like most government bodies, has a number of RSS feeds. If you want to follow news on CCGs, for example, add this to Google Reader: . Looking at the ‘sub-sites’ listed on the right also takes you to other feeds on ‘Modernisation of health and care’, for example (, or ‘Transparency’ (

Individual CCGs already have their own sites, too, many with RSS feeds. Stick Herts Valley CCG ( into Google Reader, for example, and you can follow their feed.

FOI requestsWhat Do They Know not only allows you to make Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to public bodies – it also allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds or email alerts about FOI requests. These can be done based on an organisation, an individual making requests, or mentions of a keyword in the requests themselves. Here’s the feed for FOI requests mentioning “CCG”:

Hansard – Likewise, sister site They Work For You collects information about what happens in Parliament and other assemblies. Conduct a search on the site and you can subscribe to an RSS feed of new results against the same search. Here’s one for “CCG” on there:

Discussion – It’s trickier to subscribe to a feed of discussions about an issue or body unless you know where that discussion is. But Boardreader – a search engine for forums – offers RSS feeds for search results on a particular term if you conduct the search and then put the URL of the search results (e.g. into Google Reader’s ‘Subscribe’ box. That would, for example, lead you to discussions such as this one on Mumsnet.


You can also subscribe to the feed of a search on Twitter – although you may prefer to follow this on Twitter itself, as the results of this can drown out the rest of your feeds.

I’ve put together a bundle of 19 such feeds at this Google Reader ‘bundle’, which allows you to subscribe to them as one ordered collection with a single click. Would you add any others?





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