Competition panel advises against Norfolk and Suffolk mental health merger

A health chief said today he was confident the merger of Norfolk and Suffolk's mental health trusts will still go ahead, despite a competition panel recommending it does not proceed.

The Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust has entered the next phase of the process for merging with neighbouring Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, with a business case and integration plan submitted in March to Monitor, a key NHS regulatory body.

The trust is waiting for a final decision from Monitor, due at the end of June 2011. An approval would allow the trusts to merge from July 1, 2011 at the earliest.

However, the Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP) has recommended to Monitor that the merger does not go ahead, saying it would have an adverse effect on patient choice and competition in the area and this is not outweighed by the potential �5.1m savings over the next three years. Most of the savings are planned to be made through changes to corporate and support services, rather than frontline staff.

The trusts expect 80 posts may be affected by the merger, but said they are implementing strategies to minimise the impact on staff and consultation will be undertaken before any changes take place.

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Aidan Thomas, who is currently chief executive of the Norfolk mental health trust and acting chief executive of Suffolk too, said: 'CCP has delivered its advice which was that it would not recommend the merger to Monitor, which is disappointing; however, this certainly doesn't rule out or prevent the merger. The Strategic Health Authority supports the merger.'

'The CCP is an advisory body that examines merger cases in the NHS to determine their impact on competition and provide advice to the Department of Health and Monitor.

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'I am confident the merger will go ahead, especially as we have strong support from service users and other key stakeholders.'

Mr Thomas said the merger plans were on schedule, with the majority of the new executive directors designate appointed.

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