Commissioners of Torbay’s pioneering integrated care organisation are taking legal advice amid fears its progress could be placed “in jeopardy” by a requirement to competitively tender some services, HSJ has learned.

HSJ understands South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group is taking legal advice on whether it must be tied to a commitment made by its primary care trust predecessors to tender south Devon’s community services in 2016.

These services were merged with integration pioneer Torbay Care Trust in 2011, under the national transforming community services programme, forming Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care Trust.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said commissioners committed at that time to run an open competition for south Devon’s services in 2016, but the CCG was now trying to establish whether it was bound by that commitment, given that PCTs are now abolished.

HSJ understands the CCG has not yet decided its course of action. However, some in the group are concerned that putting the south Devon services out to tender might also force it to tender Torbay’s services.

This is reportedly because local GPs feel strongly there should be a single community provider for Torbay and south Devon, to avoid unequal provision between the patches.

A well placed NHS source in the area told HSJ: “The GPs, who are now the commissioners, feel there is a strong case that if they have to put south Devon out there’s a strong case for putting Torbay out, so we end up with one provider instead of two.”

King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham said there was “real concern” that retendering Torbay and Southern Devon’s services would mean further years of uncertainty for the organisation, making it hard for the trust to retain “experienced leaders”. He was worried it could also throw a “big spanner in the works” of the trust’s proposed merger with acute foundation trust South Devon Healthcare.

He told HSJ: “I think the progress in Torbay is now in jeopardy unless they’re allowed to suspend the rules – if they are rules – on TCS retendering and continue down the path they’ve set around the proposed merger with the FT.”

He added that Torbay was the “jewel in the crown of integrated care” and it would be a “tragedy” if the trust found it “more difficult to not just sustain but build on the impressive record it has established over 10 years”.

A spokeswoman for South Devon and Torbay CCG said: “We have been reviewing the procurement regulations so that we can be very clear about how to accommodate these in our planning. 

“We’re getting valuable support at the national level as we work to achieve an outcome that will be in the best interests of patients and our local population, and of course we remain deeply committed to the principle that integrated care offers the best services.”