Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E) have announced a ‘new collaboration’.

The draft collaboration has been agreed in principle but will be voted on by the two separate trust boards next month before coming into play on June 18.

If approved by both boards, the two trusts will share a chairman and a chief executive.

Suzanne Tracey, the current chief executive of RD&E, will become chief executive of both organisations.

The current chairman of RD&E, James Brent, will be appointed as chairman of both trusts, though they will continue with two separate boards.

Roger French, chairman of NDHT since 2011, has announced he will retire on June 30.

Judy Jones, non-executive director at NDHT, will also be stepping down from the board at the end of June.

The Gazette has asked NDHT for further clarification on what the collaboration will mean for other management jobs within the trust.

Andy Ibbs, interim chief executive at NDHT, said: “We have made no secret of the challenges we face as the most remote acute hospital in Devon and indeed one of the most remote acute hospitals in the country, most significantly our difficulty recruiting to our medical vacancies.

“Our staff have been amazing in how they have continuously risen to the challenges with their hard work and innovations, but we now need additional support.

“We have worked closely with the RD&E for a number of years to try to address the difficulties we face and we are very positive about this agreement, which will formalise this support to help ensure people in northern Devon receive the best possible clinical care.”

The move has come as a result of the Devon Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) which will maintain an oversight of the collaboration.

During this time, an ‘options appraisal’ will be undertaken to look and longer-term solutions to the challenges faced by NDHT.

Suzanne Tracey added: “We have worked with our colleagues in NDHT for a number of years on a collaborative basis to sustain clinical services and to help tackle the challenges it has faced.

“We now need to do more and I am pleased that, following our very positive discussions, we are in a position to ensure that the health needs of the population in northern Devon are not disadvantaged compared to the wider population in Devon.”

“Despite the issues faced by NDHT, I know that the staff are incredibly hard-working, dedicated and always put patients first.

“I am looking forward to working with them even more closely going forward.

“Staff often have the best insights and ideas on what would work best for their patients and I want to listen to their views and to support them to make improvements.”

Jennifer Howells, regional director South West for NHS Improvement and NHS England, said the two trusts were ‘determined to do the right thing’ for the community.

She added: “Working with the RD&E through this agreement, and with ongoing support from NHS Improvement, I am confident that NDHT will have the best possible support to make the necessary, sustainable

improvements that will enable them to provide the quality of services patients expect from the NHS.”