HSJ’s round-up of the day’s biggest stories and debate

Merger trust to provide full (Somer)set of services

Health chiefs in Somerset are planning to create only the second English NHS trust to provide acute, community and mental health services.

Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust and Somerset Partnership FT set up a joint executive board last year as part of an alliance agreement, and they are now looking to fully merge the organisations.

Somerset Partnership chief executive Peter Lewis told HSJ there were “disbenefits” to running the alliance agreement and a merger would help integrate services such as child and adolescent mental health service and paediatrics – to name just one example.

On the face of it, the merger looks a logical move amid the push for integration in the NHS.

The trusts are a similar size and based just 10 miles apart. Somerset Partnership is forecasting a small surplus this year, while Taunton and Somerset is set to record a small deficit.

The only other trust to currently provide acute, community and mental health services (plus an ambulance service) is Isle of Wight, which is in special measures.

As with most mergers, one of the biggest challenges will be getting the staff onboard with the proposal. Mr Lewis said there had been “lots of informal discussion” and some groups were “really engaged”.

He added that the trusts will be very careful not to let the merger become too big a distraction from delivering day to day services.

If the plan is approved by both trusts’ boards this summer, the merger could be completed by summer 2019 – subject to the thumbs up from regulators and Competition and Markets Authority.

Meanwhile, three clinical commissioning groups in Essex and Suffolk have set out plans to form a “single strategic commissioning body” across county boundaries as part of local plans to establish an integrated care system.

The plans for Ipswich and East Suffolk, West Suffolk and North East Essex CCGs are set out in the latter’s latest governing body papers.

It comes as the CCGs’ two major acute providers – Colchester Hospital University FT and Ipswich Hospital Trust – are set to sign off their merger next week.