STRUCTURE: The deadline for Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust’s planned acquisition of North Cumbria University Hospital has been pushed back by four months, into the next financial year.

In a statement released this afternoon, NCUH said the takeover was now “expected to take place” by 1 April 2013. The two trusts had previously been working to a deadline of December 1 this year.

The statement comes a day after the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel – which is evaluating the proposed merger – announced that it would proceed to a more in-depth investigation of the plans that could run until January 3 2013.

Announcing its decision to move to a phase two investigation, the competition watchdog said there was a “realistic prospect that the merger may result in a material adverse effect for patients and taxpayers through the reduction of competitive pressure, particularly in respect of [NCUH’s] Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle”.

However, today’s NCUH statement said the two trusts had decided to go ahead with “interim management arrangements” that will see a Northumbria Healthcare executive take over day-to-day management of the Cumbrian trust ahead of any decision on the acquisition.

Northumbria Healthcare chief operating officer Ann Farrar will be appointed interim chief executive of NCUH. The arrangement had originally been planned for August, but was also subject to delays.

In the second phase of its investigation the CCP will consider in detail the extent to which other providers could impose competitive constraint on Northumbria and North Cumbria post-merger, and the extent to which the merger might change existing referral flows between providers.