STRUCTURE: A hospital provider has written to the Competition Commission opposing plans for the first merger between two foundation trusts.

The commission is currently investigating whether the proposed merger between Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch and Poole Hospital foundation trusts will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the area.

It has received a number of representations for and against the deal, including a letter from an unnamed local “hospital provider” arguing against the plans.

The letter, in which the name of the provider is redacted, states: “Each trust presents the strongest competitive constraint to the other, and although [redacted] would of course remain in the market competing against the parties to the merger inquiry for NHS funded healthcare episodes, [redacted] does not have the capacity to replace the constraint lost as a result of the merger.

“We believe competition for NHS activity within the local market would therefore be adversely affected should the trusts merge.”

Based on GP referral data for Dorset in 2011-12, Poole has 23 per cent of the market, RBCH has 34 per cent and Dorset County Hospital Foundation Trust 27 per cent. Of the remaining 16 per cent, 4 per cent of referrals went to Salisbury Foundation Trust and 8 per cent to others, including private providers.

A spokesman for Dorset County said the trust had not sent the letter while Salisbury expressed support for the merger in a hearing with the CC. Local community and mental health provider, Dorset Healthcare University Foundation Trust, also denied sending the letter.

Of the main private sector providers of acute hospital services in the Dorset area, Nuffield Health denied they had sent the letter. BMI Healthcare, which runs hospitals in Poole and Dorchester, declined to comment while the investigation was ongoing.

The boards of RBCH and Poole argue the way services are divided between them means there is little true competition taking place.

The merger is supported by commissioners. Wessex local area team director Debbie Flemming wrote to the commission to express the “strongest possible support” for the merger, warning that delays to the deal could have a “very detrimental impact on services”.

She added: “Whilst there are a number of risks that will need to be managed, all of the local commissioners support the proposed merger, and we are keen to see this progress as speedily as possible.”

For an in-depth look at the proposed merger, see the detailed HSJ Local Briefing on the issue, published today.