• Merger plans of two mental health trusts in the Black Country have been set back by NHS Improvement
  • The trust regulator has rejected the organisations’ initial business case and asked for it to be revised

Plans to merge two mental health trusts in the West Midlands have suffered a set back after proposals were queried by NHS Improvement, HSJ can reveal

The regulator has rejected the outline business case for a merger between Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership Trust and the Black Country Partnership Foundation Trust, according to a senior source with knowledge of the proposals.

According to HSJ’s source NHS Improvement has asked the two trusts to redo their business case. They said the regulator’s concerns were focussed on the clarity of the future clinical model and how the trusts would resolve the differences in culture across the two organisations. 

HSJ understands NHSI’s concerns around culture relate to the trusts’ differing staff survey results. While Dudley and Walsall performed well, the Black Country Partnership did not. With regards to the clinical model, it is understood the regulator wanted more clarity on how the trusts would ensure the quality of local services amid scaling up by the merged organisation to work across the Black Country.

However, in a statement to HSJ a spokesperson for both trusts said the outline business case had not been rejected. They said NHSI had expressed formal support for the proposals but asked for “further details” on their approach to a joint leadership structure and service improvement.

This would be submitted with the full business case in autumn this year, the trust spokeswoman added. 

Last year HSJ reported that the two trusts were forced to abort a triple merger with Birmingham Community Healthcare FT due to NHSI’s concerns over the financial viability of the business case.

The news comes after the two organisations failed to appoint a single chair earlier this year, claiming they could not find any suitable candidates.

The trusts told HSJ they are still working towards a deadline of April 2020 for the merger, but that this would be subject to formal approval from regulators.

As the Black Country Partnership FT is a foundation trust, HSJ understands it is likely it would have to acquire Dudley and Walsall Partnership Trust as part of the merger plans.

A spokeswoman for both trusts said: “In January we submitted a Strategic Outline Case that describes our plans to merge Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust.

“In April, we received written feedback from NHSI who stated they were supportive of our continued progress towards the merger. They believe our plans are driven by a strong strategic rationale and could enable a more comprehensive offer of mental health services in the Black Country.

“They have asked for further detail in areas such as our approach to a joint leadership structure and how we may improve services in the future. This information will be submitted as an addendum. The full business case is currently being developed and will be submitted in the autumn.”