STRUCTURE: Plans for an integrated care organisation incorporating England’s smallest acute have been abandoned, it has been confirmed.

In September HSJ reported that plans to bring together Weston Area Health Trust, North Somerset Community Partnership and social care services provided by North Somerset Council into an integrated foundation trust were looking increasingly unlikely. At Weston’s board meeting on Tuesday it was confirmed Weston would be seeking an alternative organisation form, rather than the proposed integrated model, although plans for more joint working would continue. The trust will now begin discussions with NHS South of England and the National Trust Development Authority about its future.

Weston chief executive Peter Colclough, who was bought in to lead the work on integration, told HSJ it was “right” to take the decision to abandon it now rather than go through the foundation trust process with the likelihood of being unsuccessful.

He said the financial challenge in making the organisation viable and able to pass Monitor’s foundation trust authorisation process was to blame for the failure.

He said: “As we developed the work it became increasingly obvious that the financial challenge was going to be too big to overcome and particularly to put together an organisation that would be capable of satisfying Monitor’s threshold.”

Mr Colclough said the trust was struggling with a “history of financial difficulty”, the demands of an above-average aged population, and an unusually high proportion of emergency work for a trust of its size. He said the work on setting up an integrated organisation had demonstrated it would be possible to “narrow” its financial problem but not eliminate it.

He told HSJ a project board had had a “brief look” at setting up an integrated social enterprise, but the option was not pursued because of the lack of any precedent for an acute trust being run by a social enterprise.

Mr Colclough said the better option was to work with the Trust Development Authority to pursue “some form of acquisition” of Weston.

The nearest NHS trusts to Weston are all already involved in the early stages of discussions about closer working and potential merger.

To the north, University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust and North Bristol Trust have agreed in principle to merge. To the south, Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust and Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust have commissioned a review to explore the benefits of closer working.

Sources in the area said a form of management franchise tender was a potential approach for Weston.

Mary Backhouse, a GP and chief clinical officer designate for NHS North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, said the CCG wanted its population to have access to “as wide a range of services at Weston as possible”.

She said this should include emergency services, routine surgery, diagnostics and outpatient services.

A decision on the next steps for the trust is expected to be made by the end of the year.