The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership

Another merger

NHS mergers are back in fashion, and two organisations in the South West could be next in line.

Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust will share its chief executive and chair with Northern Devon Healthcare Trust from 18 June, if both boards approve proposals for a new collaboration agreement.

A number of neighbouring trusts in England have moved to share chairs and chief executives, and in several cases this has been a precursor to a merger or acquisition.

The Devon deal stems from long-standing problems at Northern Devon Healthcare Trust around recruitment and financial sustainability, and more recently, instability of its senior leadership.

NDHT is an isolated provider and locals have campaigned hard to keep emergency services at the trust.

Last year’s wide-ranging review of acute services in Devon committed to keeping a major emergency department at the trust and provided some comfort to residents, but concerns about service retention grew again when news of the collaboration first broke last month.

Significantly, these concerns were highlighted by the trust’s consultant body.

Under the agreement, RD&E leaders Suzanne Tracey and James Brent will take on the CEO and chair roles at NDHT, but both organisations retain their boards and statutory obligations.

An “options appraisal” will then be carried out which seeks to find solutions to Northern Devon’s challenges, and the move comes with the blessing of NHS Improvement.

Happy birthday

When the Care Quality Commission announced that Ian Trenholm would be its next chief executive, the regulator cited his “track record of delivering technological innovation at scale” as one of the deciding factors.

But documents seen by HSJ raise doubts over Mr Trenholm’s record at NHS Blood and Transplant, where he leaves a multimillion IT project which has been plagued by delays, rising costs, senior management disagreement and resignations.

Despite £23m being spent on the programme, none of the electronic clinical services originally planned are up and running, according to the report. It says the only parts of the project to have gone live are a system for sending donors a “happy birthday” message and a venue and appointment booking service.

NHS BT said responsibility for the project had recently shifted to another senior manager as part of a “long planned move”; while a CQC spokeswoman said “all appropriate due diligence processes were followed” including “receipt of detailed references and conversations conducted with senior leaders in the health system”.

Frontline incredulity

Senior whistleblowers at East of England Ambulances Services Trust told HSJ an “independent” review which found nobody died because of long delays over winter “simply does not tally with the experiences of frontline staff”.

The East of England Ambulance Services Trust this week announced the top line findings of the independent review, which followed whistleblower allegations of deaths and serious harm caused by delays.

But a senior paramedic contacted HSJ following publication of the review, and said: “When I saw the reports of the review I was staggered. To say that not one single one of those deaths was because of the delays? Come on. That really is stretching credibility.”

The trust stressed it was investing in staff and more ambulances to try and address the delays, while commissioners said the review was done in a “rigorous manner without any prejudice” (see the story for the full responses).