COMMERCIAL: The leader of a Devon trust has warned that local influence over how a number of its community hospitals are used will lessen if it loses possession of the sites.

Northern Devon Healthcare Trust has said that the decision of commissioners to name another trust as the preferred provider of a £100m community service contract will mean it will have to give up ownership of some of its community hospitals.

Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group’s decision to name Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust as the preferred provider of the contract prompted an official complaint by Northern Devon Healthcare, the incumbent.

An investigation by Monitor into the process for commissioning the three-year contract is ongoing.

Northern Devon Healthcare chief executive Dr Alison Diamond wrote to local partners last month saying that the contract transfer will see ownership of 12 of the trust’s community hospitals “in all likelihood” transfer to NHS Property Services.

Ownership of the hospitals was passed to the trust following the dissolution of Devon Primary Care Trust, under rules governing the ownership of property used in the provision of NHS community services.

The sites that could be affected by a contract transfer are:

  • Tiverton and District Hospital;
  • Honiton Hospital;
  • Axminster Hospital;  
  • Ottery St Mary Hospital;
  • Seaton Community Hospital;
  • Sidmouth Hospital;
  • Exmouth Hospital;
  • Budleigh Salterton Hospital;
  • Exeter Community Hospital;
  • Moretonhampstead Community Hospital;
  • Crediton Hospital; and
  • Okehampton Community Hospital.

In the letter, seen by HSJ, Dr Diamond writes: “A further implication of the transfer for eastern Devon is that the ownership of these community hospitals will in all likelihood transfer to NHS Property Services, the national NHS landlord, based in Leeds.

“We feel this will mean local influence over the community hospitals will be reduced and are concerned this likelihood is largely unknown amongst the local communities.”

If NEW Devon CCG finalises its contract with Royal Devon and Exeter, ownership of the sites would pass to the health secretary, who would then pass them to NHS Property Services, according to Department of Health guidance.

Estates staff at each of the hospitals should then have their employment protected under transfer of undertakings protection of employment regulations.

A Northern Devon Healthcare source said: “If the services were to transfer from our trust to Royal Devon and Exeter, this means we as the current provider would occupy less than 50 per cent of the building, which would trigger the switch to NHS Property Services, and not Royal Devon and Exeter.”

An NHS Property Services spokesman said: “Many of our staff transferred to us from former primary care trust roles, so have well established local links.

“We are experienced at working with a wide range of NHS organisations, including clinical commissioning groups and service providers.

“We have many operational community hospitals in our portfolio and nearly half of our estate is used for clinical purposes.”

Jerry Clough, chief operating officer at NEW Devon CCG, said: “Our strategy for community services was developed following a significant period of public and stakeholder engagement and sets out how we will develop community hospitals to provide integrated health and social care. A core principle in this was about the organisation of services locally.

“There are several potential options for the future ownership of hospitals and we are collectively exploring these.

“We are therefore deeply disappointed that Northern Devon Healthcare Trust has decided to raise their concerns at this time, before there has been full consideration of each possibility and with a connection to their complaint to Monitor.”