PUBLISHED: 00:01 17 August 2017
Ipswich and Colchester hospitals are set to merge in a bid to create an organisation that can stand the test of time within an NHS that is at breaking point.
Nick Hulme, chief executive of both trusts, has said he cannot guarantee there will be no redundancies if the move goes ahead in June 2018.
Outline plans, which could see patients in east Suffolk making 80-mile round-trips to north east Essex for treatment, are due to be rubber-stamped at the first ever joint public meeting of the two boards on Thursday, August 24.
Under the new system, clinical services will fully integrate, with only emergency departments, urgent medical care and full doctor-led maternity services certain to remain at both sites.
Mr Hulme said the two hospitals, which employ nearly 8,000 members of staff, were not sustainable on their own in their current state.
If they stay as separate trusts, they will struggle to continue to deliver all of the services they do at the moment due to a national shortage of skilled staff, meaning patients in need of specialist care will have to travel to bigger centres in London, Cambridge and Norwich, or wait longer to be seen locally.
By working as one, over the next five years hospital bosses claim they will be able to save £40million in running costs, bring down patient waiting times, invest £70m in buildings and equipment and recruit enough staff to reduce vacant posts from 15% to just over 7%.
Mr Hulme said no significant changes, including movement of services from one hospital to another, would go ahead without consultation with members of the public and other organisations first.
But he added: “I think there will be some movements inevitably, but I think it’s really important if we do move services between sites that we are able to demonstrate to the public and the patients that there is a benefit, so that might be a shorter waiting time, it might be better clinical outcomes or it might simply be that because of workforce challenges we can no longer provide a service at a certain site.”
Ipswich Hospital is currently rated ‘good’ by the Care Quality Commission, whereas Colchester Hospital is deemed ‘inadequate’ and has been in special measures since 2013.
Last night Mr Hulme assured the coupling would not have a detrimental impact on Ipswich.
“I’m very clear that I have a responsibilty equally to the people of Suffolk and the people of north east Essex,” he said. “I personally would never let the services at Ipswich suffer as a result of this partnership and proposed merger.”
The main drivers behind the fusion are improving quality of care and access to services for patients, while combatting workforce and financial challenges, Mr Hulme said.
David White, chairman of both trusts, said: “By thinking differently and working together we can change the way we deliver care and provide excellent services that are vital for the future of the communities we serve.”
An outline business case has been put together, developed over the last six months with input from staff, patients, clinical experts and health and local authority partners of both hospitals, which makes the recommendation for full integration into one trust.
The other options considered were an acquisition of one trust by another, or no change at all.
Dr Mark Shenton, chairman of Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who is a GP in the county, said: “There are many real tangible benefits to patients and staff outlined in this new business case.”
Sam Hepplewhite, accountable officer for North East Essex CCG, added: “Our communities in north east Essex need healthcare services that are reliable, easy to access and very high quality.
“This case shows how a partnership of hospitals can help us to offer that level of care sustainably in the future.”
Subject to the boards approving the case next week, the trusts will go on to develop detailed plans for the combined organisation.
A final decision will then be made early next year, and will also require approval from regulators NHS Improvement and the Competition and Markets Authority.
Members of the public are invited to attend the board meeting on August 24, which will be held at Langham Community Centre from 10.30am until 11.30am.