A hospital trust may have to merge with a neighbouring organisation to ensure the survival of its services.
Bosses at Weston Area Health Trust are to begin discussions with NHS South of England and the NHS Trust Development Authority about how it will provide services in the future.
The move comes after the Government stated that every health trust in the country had to become a foundation trust or look at other ways of delivering services.
The trust, which runs Weston General Hospital, is one of the smallest acute care trusts in the country and does not have the budget, staffing or range of services to become a stand-alone foundation trust.
Bosses had been investigating the possibility of setting up an Integrated Care Organisation in North Somerset, which could combine social services and healthcare provision, including mental health services, in one new organisation.
But after a year of investigation the trust has decided it is no longer practical to pursue the idea because of a lack of funding and concerns the new body would not meet the strict requirements of the government health watchdog Monitor.
Now the trust will talk with NHS South England and the NHS Development Authority about how its work can be done in the future. It could end up merging with a neighbouring hospital trust – possibly in Bristol – to become a foundation trust together.
The other option is to find a different partner organisation, either a privately-run company, a voluntary organisation or a charity.
Trust chief executive Peter Colclough said: “We have put considerable effort into exploring the feasibility of bringing together social services provided by North Somerset Council, the services provided by North Somerset Community Partnership and the Acute Service provided by Weston Area Health NHS Trust into a single Integrated Care Organisation. But we have reluctantly concluded that this larger organisation could not pass the tests associated with becoming a Foundation Trust in its own right, in particular because of the scale of the financial challenge that would still face the new organisation.”
Currently WAHT has an annual budget of £90 million and treats around 180,000 patients from across Weston-super-Mare and the surrounding area every year.
Trust chairman Chris Creswick said: “Weston General Hospital currently provides safe, high quality services but it is increasingly clear that as more healthcare is best delivered very locally (in GP surgeries or at home), or in large, regional specialist hospitals, small district general hospitals find themselves under increasing pressure.”