STRUCTURE: East Cheshire Trust has secured its commissioners’ backing to make a bid for foundation trust status, just months after they expressed doubts about its survival as an independent organisation.

Notes from a January meeting between the chief executives of NHS North of England and NHS Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral described East Cheshire’s FT bid as “a significant risk, with ongoing concerns re their viability as a standalone organisation”.

CWW chief executive Kathy Doran had said she was “not convinced” her organisation should support East Cheshire’s plans.

But Ms Doran this week told HSJ that, following a review of the trust’s options by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, her primary care trust cluster was happy to support an independent bid.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that it’s a small trust in a challenging financial environment,” she said.

Commissioners had wanted to be clear that the trust’s five-year financial model did not suggest it was “going to be asked to do anything that would compromise its ability to provide services”, she said.

East Cheshire had a turnover of around £170m last year, after taking over local community services; in 2010-11 its turnover was just £119m.

Ms Doran continued: “What the PwC work enabled us to see is that it wasn’t too challenging – it’s a challenge, but a lot of trusts are facing challenging times.”

She said of the trust: “They’re trying to develop a new service model, of integrated care across the whole health economy.

“That model seems to fit with what we know about how money is going to flow around the [NHS] system [in the future].”

HSJ understands that commissioners will provide the trust with between £2m and £3m one-off “transitional funding” to support its bid this year.

In a statement to HSJ, East Cheshire said it had reduced its ongoing costs by £8.6m in 2011-12, a year in which it had to manage a merger which nearly doubled its workforce.

Chief executive John Wilbraham said the “engagement of staff in the financial agenda” had produced “significant recurrent reductions in expenditure”.

He said commissioners’ support “will allow us time to transform service delivery to meet the needs of our local population by shifting our emphasis from acute to community provision and from treatment to prevention”.

“The board do not underestimate the challenge as we commence historical due diligence but we are excited as we move towards public consultation in May 2012,” he added.