STRUCTURE: The two south coast foundation trusts whose planned merger was blocked last year have signed an undertaking not to attempt to merge again for the next 10 years.

However, leaders at Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals and Poole Hospital described the final undertakings – which are a normal part of the Competition Commission’s procedure – as less “onerous” than expected.

As well as banning a merger or acquisition the document, which was drawn up by the commission, also requires the trusts to comply with any future requests for information from the competition regulators to provide assurance that any service changes do not constitute a merger.

Poole chief executive Chris Bown told the trust’s recent board meeting the undertakings were “better than we might have expected”.

He added: “Whilst they do not prohibit future reconfigurations, the board should be aware that all reconfigurations do remain subject to normal competition law.”

Last year the Co-operation and Competition Panel ruled that the centralisation of head and neck services at University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust and breast and urology services at North Bristol Trust constituted mergers.

This means if the south coast trusts wanted to press ahead with some of the service changes proposed as part of the merger they would still have to satisfy the authorities that any loss of patient choice was outweighed by the benefits to patients.

Jeremy Roper, partner at DAC Beachcroft, said this was an issue that affected providers “right across the board” and the Dorset trusts were “in the same position” as other trusts looking to reconfigure services.