NHS organisations are being invited to bid to merge with a trust in the East of England.

NHS East of England said the decision to offer Bedfordshire and Luton Mental Health and Social Care Partnership trust up for merger was a first for the health service.

The strategic health authority wants a merger to be under way by the end of the year and hopes to establish a model for handling trusts not expected to make foundation status.

The trust’s chair and non-executive directors announced in February that they would step down to make way for a merger, after accepting it would not become a foundation in its present form.

NHS organisations have been asked to submit expressions of interest, which will be assessed by the SHA.

Innovative proposals

Director of strategy Stephen Dunn said it had discussed the process with the Department of Health, Monitor and the competition and collaboration panel.

“We would like to establish this as an exemplar of how these transactions happen in future,” he said.

“We are really keen to encourage innovative proposals, for example including joint ventures.”

The process is open to non-foundations but Mr Dunn said: “The key criteria will be ability to deliver a successful foundation trust model.”