A ballot on whether to turn three primary care trust provider arms in the North East into a social enterprise has been suspended.

NHS North of Tyne - the commissioning cluster comprising NHS North Tyneside, NHS Newcastle and Northumberland Care Trust - had intended to allow community staff to vote on the social enterprise option.

But the cluster’s combined provider arm revealed in a statement the Department of Health had said it could no longer stand by the previous government’s commitment to three to five year contracts for community services.

Newcastle and North Tyneside Community Health’s statement said: “We have decided to stop the current ballot to allow further consideration of these implications.”

A DH spokeswoman confirmed to HSJ that after the abolition of the commissioning PCT, from 2013, the community service contracts would pass to the relevant GP consortium, which could choose to hand them to another “wiling provider”, overriding any contracted guarantee.

The other proposed option in the ballot was to vertically integrate the community services with the PCTs’ two local foundation trusts.