STRUCTURE: North Cumbria University Hospitals has named Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust as its preferred bidder to take over the trust.

Northumbria Healthcare’s selection knocked out the only other remaining contender to acquire the Cumbrian acute, a joint bid between foundation trusts Cumbria Partnership and Newcastle Hospitals. University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay FT dropped out of the contest late last year, in the wake of a damning Care Quality Commission report on its own maternity services.

North Cumbria began seeking a takeover after deciding that the financial challenges it faced were so great that it “would potentially be unsafe” to attempt to reach foundation trust status alone in the time available.

NHS North of England, local health commissioners, and the two providers will now begin detailed negotiations around the financial arrangements surrounding the acquisition and this is likely to take a few weeks, according to a North Cumbria statement released this morning.

“The trust board reserves the right to seek other options if these negotiations are not successful in order to secure the future of acute hospital healthcare for the people of north Cumbria,”

It added that the selection process was “not about choosing a new model for how care should be provided in north Cumbria in future”. 

“Board members assessed the bidders on how their proposals will provide the best solution for the population of north Cumbria focusing on the delivery of high quality care and financial sustainability and for the existing North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust,” it said.

Mike Little, chair of North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust, said: “Our evaluation started in June 2011 and has been a lengthy, detailed and competitive process.

“We are optimistic about the negotiation process which starts from today between the strategic health authority, local commissioners, our trust and Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust.

“We hope these negotiations will be successful to enable the trust to start the regulatory approvals process for our acquisition.

“It is really important to stress that while this process is underway, North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust Board will continue to manage the hospitals in north Cumbria and it will be very much business as usual.

“Delivering high-quality and safe care for the patients of north Cumbria will remain our number one priority.”

The trust said becoming part of a larger organisation would “deliver economies of scale and enable the local NHS to deliver improvements while, at the same time, making larger efficiency savings”.

Cumbria Partnership chief executive Stephen Dalton said the FT was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

He added: “However, we remain the only major countywide provider of healthcare and as such we are eager to now see a very public discussion about Northumbria’s plans for Cumbria’s hospitals in the North and West.  I hope that the staff of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust finally get the stability and support they deserve.”