• Warrington and Halton Hospitals Foundation Trust and Bridgewater Community Healthcare FT in talks to form single provider
  • Chief says it is “very difficult to make the case for the continued existence of small trusts”
  • Major integration with social and primary care also on the agenda
  • Comes after Bridgewater has significantly reduced in size

Two providers in the north west have begun talks about merging, amid wider plans to improve integration across services.

The chief executives of Warrington and Halton Hospitals Foundation Trust and Bridgewater Community Healthcare FT told HSJ they could form a single organisation within the “next year or two”.

They also stressed there would be major integration with social care services and the new primary care networks, building on a number of joint appointments which have already been made.

It comes as Bridgewater has significantly reduced in size and turnover in recent years. It lost a contract for adult community services in St Helens in 2017, while its adult services in Wigan transferred to the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh FT in April. It was also blocked from taking on a major contract for adult services in Liverpool.

It now only delivers core adult community services in Warrington and Halton, as well as some children’s, dental, and prison services in several boroughs across the region.

Colin Scales, Bridgewater’s chief executive, said: “Bridgewater currently turns over around £110m and it’s very difficult to make the case for the continued existence of small trusts.

“There’s been no pressure from regulators to do this, but after the Wigan transfer NHS Improvement were quite keen to see what the strategy for the organisation would be.

“We’ve been working with Warrington and Halton for several years on various integration projects, so this has been a natural progression to get to a place where we can talk about formalising the relationship.

“We think a place-based provider arrangement involving social care and primary care networks is quite an exciting proposition. The coming together of the organisations is the right thing to do, although our absolute priority in that will be getting the clinical models and pathways right.”

The two trusts have created a joint “forum” between the boards that will meet for the first time this month, while Bridgewater’s corporate office is set to move from a trading estate on the outskirts of Warrington to the Warrington Hospital site later this year.

Mel Pickup, chief executive of WHH, told HSJ the trusts were just “in the foothills” of thinking about organisational form, and would instead prioritise the integration of services on the ground.

The two trusts already share a workforce director, while Warrington has a senior joint post with Warrington Council, and Bridgewater has two local GPs in clinical director posts.