Health boss reassures patients as hospital trusts merger win NHS backing

Ken Bremner
Ken Bremner

A health boss has reassured patients that hospitals in Sunderland and South Tyneside will ‘absolutely continue to exist’ as a merger of two NHS trusts moved a step closer.

NHS partners have unanimously backed plans for the proposed merger of the South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in South Tyneside and Sunderland have given their ‘wholehearted support’ to merge, while North Durham and Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCGs have also supported the plan.

Health chiefs have also maintained the merger is seperate to the ongoing controversial Path to Excellence process where some key services have been moved from South Tyneside District Hospital to Sunderland Royal Hospital.

At a joint meeting of the trusts’ Council of Governors, held in Hebburn, leaders at South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group thanked staff, patients, members of the public and stakeholders for getting involved and sharing their views as part of the ‘Stronger Together’ engagement process.

More than 1,000 feedback responses were received over nine weeks.

Ken Bremner, chief executive of South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are very encouraged at the level of engagement and would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their views.

“It is clear that there is a broad understanding, particularly amongst our staff and stakeholders, as to why we feel a formal merger will help us make further quality improvements in patient care and this is very positive to hear.

“We recognise that our teams are now eager to learn more about what the proposed merger would mean for them individually and we are fully committed to beginning an open and transparent HR consultation process, working with our staff-side representatives, following approval of the Full Business Case by both individual Trust Boards.

“We have also heard loud and clear from staff, patients and members of the public that people are concerned about travel and transport between our hospitals. I want to give strong reassurance that we are continuing to work very closely with our CCG and local authority partners to actively consider travel and transport implications as we move forward and will provide further updates as this work progresses.

“I also want to take this opportunity reassure people, once again, that our hospitals in South Tyneside and Sunderland will absolutely continue to exist and will continue to play key roles in our local communities, both now and in the future, regardless of whether or not a merger takes place.”

The Council of Governors of both trusts today welcomed the engagement feedback which also included responses from Unison as well as local campaign groups.

All feedback will now be considered as part of the Full Business Case submission at separate statutory trust board meetings next month before being submitted to regulators NHS Improvement in December.

Between January and March next year, a detailed approvals process will take place with NHS Improvement.

In March 2019, final approval for the proposed merger will be via each individual Trust Board and Council of Governors.

From April 1 next year, the newly merged trust will come into operation and work will continue to deliver post-transaction implementation plans.

Both trusts today confirmed the ‘interim board’ arrangements to oversee the merger process - which includes members of the single executive management team already in place across both trusts and has equal representation of non-executive directors from both South Tyneside and Sunderland.