STRUCTURE: A financially challenged NHS trust is set to launch an attempt take over a struggling neighbour in a bid to secure the future of both over the long term, HSJ has learned.

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust is understood to be interested in acquiring George Eliot Hospital Trust, in north Warwickshire, which is seeking a long term partner after acknowledging it will not achieve foundation status alone.

A shortlist of bidders released last year included only foundation trusts and private firms. However, the “vendor” in the process, NHS Trust Development Authority, is now understood to be taking bids from NHS trusts which can demonstrate they are likely to reach foundation status.

It emerged earlier this month that the authority was considering George Eliot to be franchised to a private company in a similar arrangement to that which saw Circle Health take over Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust in Cambridgeshire in February last year.

One such bid is likely to come from Coventry and Warwickshire, George Eliot’s nearest large tertiary provider. The potential suitor turns over £509m a year but Treasury data reveals it faces average private finance initiative payments of £98m until 2043. The trust is currently in deficit but plans to finish 2013-14 in surplus, and has reported a range of performance challenges.

HSJ understands a bid from Coventry and Warwickshire would be likely to propose networking services across three acute sites including George Eliot, centering some specialisms in University Hospital, Coventry. Such an outcome is likely to be unpopular among clinicians and patients in George Eliot’s current catchment area.

However, Coventry and Warwickshire’s bid could be still successful if the authority judges it safeguards services and represents good value for money.

South Warwickshire Foundation Trust is also planning to submit a bid to take over George Eliot. The provider announced last year it would bid in alliance with Serco.

If successful, the South Warwickshire bid would create a single foundation trust combining hospital and community services in north and south Warwickshire. 

George Eliot chief executive Kevin McGee said: “I’m hopeful UHCW’s bid, if one comes in from them, is one of many we receive.

“We will undertake a detailed evaluation of all bids, and the more we receive the better the process will be. So we welcome all interest at this very early point in the process.”