COMMERCIAL: An NHS trust has been announced as the preferred bidder for a children’s community services contract in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust will work with Sirona Care and Health CIC and Bristol Community Health CIC to deliver the service.

The contract, which is being let by Bristol and South Gloucestershire CCGs, Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils and NHS England, is to provide the service on an interim basis for a year from April.

The commissioners were forced to look for an interim provider after the incumbent, North Bristol Trust, announced it would end its contract in March 2016.

The commissioners had wanted to extend North Bristol’s contract to March 2017 to give them time to recommission the service, but the trust declined because it said it wanted to focus its “energies and resources” on “acute and hospital based care”.

The use of an interm provider could result in the 700 staff on the contract being moved twice in the space of a year under the transfer of undertakings, protection of employment regulations.

Avon and Wiltshire, Sirona and Bristol Community Health were selected over a rival bid by Virgin Care Services, which sparked anti-privatisation protests in Bristol.

In a statement, the commissioners said the “clinical safety of the service” was of “paramount importance”.

“Our main priority is to ensure a safe handover and ensure the best quality service for the children and young people who are using the service,” they added.

The Avon and Wiltshire led partnership said: “We are pleased to have been named the preferred bidder and we look forward to working with commissioners to look at the detail.”

A full contract award is expected to be announced shortly.