COMMERCIAL: The first merger between two foundation trusts faces further delays after the Competition Commission “stopped the clock” on its investigation into the deal.

The Commission said it was extending the inquiry until it received information and documents requested from the trusts involved – Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals and Poole Hospital – “to the satisfaction of the CC”.

Before the announcement of the extension late on Tuesday, the trusts were scheduled to have separate hearings with the commission on 24 April, with a final decision due to be published by 24 June.

A spokesman for the CC said they had “stopped the clock” while awaiting more information but the length of the extension, and the knock on effect on the timetable, would depend on how soon the trusts provided the information. He said the plan was still to go ahead with hearings at the end of the month

The trusts have already been forced to delay submission to Monitor by at least a month due to the Commission’s previous requirement that work on the merger stop while undertakings were agreed and an independent observer appointed.

Wessex local area team director Debbie Fleming has recently warned the commission any further delay could have a detrimental impact on services.

The trusts’ joint submission to the commission, published today, reveals Poole is expected to fail financially by 2014-15 and argues a planned merger is better than the alternative “disorderly” consolidation of services.

The requested information is understood to relate to more details of the services provided by each of the organisations.

Minutes from RBCH’s March’s board meeting, published this week, claimed the nature of the data being requested and the questions being asked showed the commission “did not fully understand the sector”  or the data. The minutes said commissioners were also responding to data requests and shared these frustrations.

The minutes stated: “Both Trusts and the commissioners had offered to meet with Competition Commission staff involved in the assessment process to help improve their understanding but the Competition Commission had refused.

“There was a concern that the Competition Commission’s focus on the data meant that they would not see the broader picture and the Trust had written to David Bennett at Monitor highlighting these concerns.”