The NHS will regret the rush to vertically integrate community services with acute trusts, the chief executive of England’s top performing primary care trust has warned.

Chris Long steered NHS Hull to first place in HSJ’s world class commissioning rankings this year.

He told a conference for aspiring social enterprises last week that the transforming community services programme will see many PCT provider arms merged with foundation and non-foundation acute trusts by April 2011. This would be a mistake, he said.

While both the previous government and the new coalition have stated PCTs can transfer community services into social enterprises and community foundation trusts, the programme’s tight deadlines have resulted in many opting to merge with hospital trusts - around half in London for example.

Mr Long told delegates: “In a few years’ time we are going to look back at the impact of the [programme] and say ‘We got that wrong, it impacted on the services of the people we are trying to serve.’”

Speaking separately to HSJ, Mr Long said: “It’s my very strong belief the Gadarene rush to merge acute and community services will in the long term prove counterproductive.”

He said: “The focus is always going to be on hospital business.

Mr Long was speaking after the successful transfer of NHS Hull’s provider arm to a social enterprise, City Healthcare Partnership, which was signed off as a community interest company in June. He also warned that GP commissioners would need to develop a better understanding of community services, including social enterprises.

He said: “Twenty per cent of the GPs in the city haven’t realised this change has happened yet. All of a sudden people are going to [have to] come up to speed with the range and nature of services that are commissioned. We have protected them from some of the more arcane aspects of the business [of commissioning].”

Mr Long, who has spent 19 years in the NHS, said: “I don’t think my future is in contract management.”