• Northern Devon Healthcare Trust and Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust to share chief executive and chair
  • Options appraisal to be carried out in search of long term solutions to Northern Devon’s challenges
  • Move comes despite concerns from consultants at Northern Devon 

A remote acute and community trust will share a chair and chief executive with its nearest neighbour in a bid to find “long term solutions” to its challenges.

Suzanne Tracey and James Brent, chief executive and chair respectively of Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust, are set to take the same positions at Northern Devon Healthcare Trust under a new collaboration agreement.

It comes one month after medical consultants at Northern Devon Healthcare Trust raised concerns that such a move could lead to the loss of services.

The trust, rated requires improvement by the Care Quality Commission in February, lost its chief executive in March and its chair is retiring in June.

Its medical director, George Thomson, was suspended in January after concerns about alleged “bullying and intimidation” were highlighted by medical consultants.

According to both trusts, the new collaboration aims to help Northern Devon continue to provide acute services.

This includes an “options appraisal” to look at long term solutions to challenges faced by Northern Devon.

A number of neighbouring trusts around England have in recent years moved to share chairs and chief executives. In several cases, this has been, or is due to be, a precursor to a full acquisition or merger.

Andy Ibbs, North Devon’s chief operating officer and interim chief executive, said the trust needed “additional support”.

Filling medical vacancies was the trust’s “most significant” challenge, he said.

“We have worked closely with Royal Devon and Exeter for a number of years to try to address the difficulties we face and we are very positive about this agreement,” he added.

Both trusts retain their separate boards and statutory obligations.

Ms Tracey said: “I am pleased that, following our very positive discussions, we are in a position to ensure that the health needs of the population in northern Devon are not disadvantaged compared to the wider population in Devon.”

The trusts said “dedicated senior management teams” would be based at both trusts’ headquarters in Exeter and Barnstaple.

The decision is supported by NHS Improvement. Joint NHSI and NHS England regional director for the south west, Jennifer Howells, said she was confident that Northern Devon would get the “best possible support” to make “necessary sustainable improvements”.

If the decision is approved by both boards, Ms Tracey and Mr Brent will take up their positions on 18 June.