The Foundation Trust Network’s decision to become an independent body has sparked fears over the future of the NHS Confederation.

The network has voted to separate from the confederation from April, while continuing to work closely with it.

This has led to concern that the confederation’s lobbying abilities will be weakened, with the loss of some of the most powerful players in the NHS.

Questions are also being raised over the future of the primary care and mental health networks, given the impending abolition of primary care trusts and the April 2014 deadline for provider trusts to gain foundation status.

Soon after the news was announced last week on hsj.co.uk, readers left comments including “RIP - NHS Confederation”. Another asked: “Will the remaining rump be sufficient to justify the continued existence of the Confed?”

However, Ms Slipman and the confederation’s acting chief executive Nigel Edwards responded by saying they would continue to work together. All Foundation Trust Network members will keep their confederation membership for the first year.

In a consultation responded to by 71 per cent of foundation trusts, 78 per cent wanted the network to become independent while continuing to work closely in partnership with the confederation and its other networks. 

Mental Health Network chair Lisa Rodrigues said there were overlaps with the Foundation Trust Network but both networks would continue to have a role.

The Mental Health Network would focus purely on policy, while the Foundation Trust Network would look at issues affecting mental health providers, such as scrapping block contracts.

But Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust chief executive Stephen Dalton called the decision “an unfortunate distraction” and questioned whether members would want to subscribe to multiple networks.

He called for a wider examination of the confederation’s future given the changing shape of the NHS.

The confederation has consulted on a broader range of issues concerning its future but had not published any findings as HSJ went to press. HSJ understands one option being considered is the creation of a new community services network.

The confederation is also recruiting for a permanent chief executive. Mr Edwards is leaving this summer to work in policy research roles at the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust think tanks.