PERFORMANCE: The struggling Ridgeway Partnership in Oxfordshire is set to become part of a larger foundation trust spanning two separate geographical areas, with all the bidders shortlisted to take it over based outside the county.

The trust, also known as Oxfordshire Learning Disability Trust, currently provides specialist services across the Oxfordshire and in Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and North East Somerset.

In his report to its November board meeting, chief executive John Morgan said Calderstones Partnership, in Lancashire, Hertfordshire Partnership and Hampshire’s Southern Health had been invited to submit detailed proposals.

The Ridgeway and Calderstones are England’s only two dedicated learning disability trusts. As previously revealed by HSJ, Calderstones has reported making “substantial progress” towards setting up a social enterprise subsidiary which will employ staff on non-NHS terms and conditions.

The subsidiary will initially be used to win new business, but from 2013-14 Calderstones aims to transfer its existing business contracts to the social enterprise.

Final proposals for the Ridgeway merger will be submitted on 15 December.

So far South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, works in Essex, Luton and Bedfordshire, while Hertfordshire Partnership provides services in Norfolk and North Essex. However no provider straddles a distance such as Lancashire to Oxfordshire.

Steve Shrubb, director of the mental health network at the NHS Confederation, told HSJ that trusts should not be stopped from bidding to take over an organisation simply because they did not share a boundary. “The important thing is to make sure the organisation is capable of providing the best possible care for patients.”

The Ridgeway Partnership announced last March that it would not be pursuing foundation trust status as a standalone organisation. This followed a series of discussions with the South Central Strategic Health Authority, which concluded that the trust was unlikely to be able to meet the necessary financial standards.

The trust also reported a year to date deficit of £858,000 at the end of October, £1.1m worse than planned, and despite a better than expected level of income.

The Ridgeway has a financial risk rating of one, the worst possible score.