• Two Essex mental health trusts set out merger timetable
  • Organisation will have new name: Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust
  • Trusts will discuss final business case in November before regulators scrutinise deal

Two Essex mental health trusts are aiming to merge by April under a new name, according to board papers.

South Essex Partnership Foundation Trust and North Essex Partnership Trust, which began talks on a tie up in late 2015, are targeting April 2017 to be merged under the name Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust.

Papers discussed at South Essex’s board meeting last month said it would appoint an interim board in November to oversee the merger, before a substantive board takes over in September 2017.

The merger is being driven by tight funding settlements, increased demand and fears among senior managers that neither trust is sustainable on its own.

The trusts have warned that the timetable could be delayed by the regulatory process.

A risk register included in the board papers said: “As a result of a number of risks relating to regulatory approval and delivery of a comprehensive and compelling business case there is a risk that the merger will not be completed by April 2017, or at all, resulting in the benefits identified in the merger proposal (clinical and patient benefits, commissioner benefits and financial benefits) not being delivered.”

A full business case for the merger is scheduled to be submitted to both boards for approval in November before being scrutinised by NHS Improvement in December and January.

The regulator will then hold a series of “board to board meetings” in February and give “the transaction a risk rating” before a final approval stage.

The trusts have a “stakeholder reference group” including patient representatives, which they say will give a strong voice to patients.

The merger comes against a backdrop of local commissioners’ plans to de-fund secondary community services for “most” mental health conditions.

A strategy paper from North Essex said: “All Essex clinical commissioning groups plan to shift income from specialist mental health services into increasing access to psychological therapies [services], by decommissioning secondary community services for most patients in non-psychotic mental health clusters.” IAPT services are a less specialised form of mental health care designed to address less severe illness for a larger patient population.

The report said the “shrinking market” for mental health services in the county, combined with increased competition from other providers had prompted both organisations to consider a merger.