A trust takeover has sparked an investigation into the relationship between property, competition and co-operation in the NHS.

The NHS co-operation and competition panel announced it was looking into the issue today, as it signed off the takeover of Bedfordshire and Luton Partnership Trust by South Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust.

A property “protocol” has been agreed to give Bedfordshire and Luton’s five commissioners some influence over its estate

The merger will now go ahead subject to the health secretary passing a dissolution order on 31 March next year.

Panel director Andrew Taylor said: “In the course of our analysis we identified a potential concern that commissioners might, as a result of the transaction, experience a loss of control of properties key to the delivery of mental health services in the area.

“Nevertheless, in the prevailing circumstances, we concluded that the loss of control did not result in any detriment to patients or taxpayers in this instance.”

Questions were raised because Bedfordshire and Luton Partnership Trust owns 40 properties, of which 15 are classed as “key” for the provision of local mental health services.

Foundation trusts have greater control over their properties than NHS trusts, meaning the health secretary would not be able to order a property to be made available to a new provider.

A property “protocol” has been agreed to give Bedfordshire and Luton’s five commissioners some influence over its estate following the transfer, but this is not legally binding.

The panel has been asked by the Department of Health and Monitor to carry out a wider study of the relationship between property, co-operation and competition in the NHS, to begin “in due course”.