A Midlands acute trust is investigating a staff ownership model as an alternative to becoming a foundation trust.

Sandwell and West Birmingham chief executive John Adler told the HSJ the trust was “keen to explore the idea of full mutualisation”, the staff ownership model often associated with retailer John Lewis.

He said: “At the trust we have been doing a lot of work to improve staff engagement through our Listening into Action programme.  We believe that this provides a good platform for further development, with a strong voice for staff, patients and the public.”

The NHS operating framework said all acute trusts had to become foundation trusts by 2013-14 unless they came up with a viable alternative. Sandwell’s model could be one such alternative.

Mr Adler said: “Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos trailed these ideas so it will be interesting to see where this goes nationally.”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, now deputy prime minister, told delegates at the Royal College of Nursing Congress in April that he wanted NHS employees forming John Lewis-style companies to take over services.

Speaking at the same conference new health secretary Andrew Lansley also backed the idea of “John Lewis model community foundation trusts”.

While politicians appear keen on the model as a way of engaging staff in order to drive up productivity, its use in the public sector will not mirror the true John Lewis approach, in which staff gain financially as shareholders.

Sandwell and West Birmingham is also currently working on plans for a £484m private finance initiative hospital.