Triple trust merger hits snag

The merger between Newham, Barts and Whipps Cross health trusts has moved a step closer with its approval by NHS London.

The Board of NHS London announced that it has approved the full business case for the merger of Barts and the London NHS Trust, Newham University Hospital NHS Trust and Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust. The decision follows agreement to proceed with a merger by each of the three Trust Boards.

The recommendation will now go to the Department of Health Transaction Board, which is due to consider the business case early next year. The target date for the merger is April 1, 2012.

However the Co-operation & Competition Panel, has concluded “any benefits from the deal do not outweigh the potential drawbacks for patients.”

Catherine Davies, CCP Director, said: “Patients in North East London deserve the benefits that come from having choice and a range of providers. These proposals will reduce patients’ choice of providers so we need to work out how to ensure quality does not deteriorate as a result.”

The panel is now looking for the interested parties to submit modifications to the current proposals. It has suggested a series of possible remedies.

A joint statement from the three trusts says they support the majority of the mitigations suggested by the panel.

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The boards are expected to provide a response to the panel but a spokeswoman for the Newham trust has said it would be a huge setback for healthcare if Newham University Hospital NHS Trust were excluded from the merger.

She said: “We believe that the CCP has:

• underestimated the benefits of the merger, for example the CCP does not consider benefits over the longer term (more than two years);

• over-stated the effect of competition loss in an urban environment with excellent transport links to multiple hospitals and alternative providers;

“The boards of each trust, commissioners and NHS London have considered a range of other alternatives and believe this merger is in the best interests of local people.”

Dr Mike Gill, Medical Director, Newham University Hospital NHS Trust said: “Hospitals are struggling to meet current best practice consistently, including NHS London’s acute medicine and emergency general surgery specification. Put simply, the quality of clinical services would be severely tested and at risk without this merger. Excluding Newham from the merger will be bad for residents, patients, taxpayers and staff.”