The CEOs of Bedford and Luton & Dunstable (L&D) hospitals have said they’re “disappointed” that their plans to merge are not yet in place. Despite submitting a business case to create a single Foundation Trust almost two years ago.
In a statement yesterday (18 July), Stephen Conroy, CEO of Bedford Hospital and David Carter, CEO of L&D said ongoing uncertainty over the lack of funding for the merger has led to them being “very disappointed that our plans to merge have not yet reached fruition.”
The comments come in the same week that Bedford Hospital NHS Trust launched its three-year plan.
The hospitals submitted their plans to NHS England and NHS Improvement in September 2017 and say significant work has taken place to develop plans and review the full business case for the merger.
A separate business case for capital investment, outlining the means by which the full benefits of the merger would be realised was also submitted.
“Both Trusts entered into discussions around the merger with an absolute commitment to make this a reality and have worked extremely hard in the planning for this proposal,” said the CEOs in a joint statement.
However, despite their insistence that the merger will improve access to health care for people around both hospitals, there has been public opposition to the merger plans.
“Centralising services and moving services to the L&D, that were previously available at Bedford, will create difficulty for patients,” said Jenny Feneley co-founder of the Hands-off Bedford Hospital campaign.
“Given that the L&D is the larger hospital, and the business case contains a significant investment in the L&D, it seems logical to presume that the L&D will become the primary location.
“Up and down the country A&Es and maternity wards are closing, it doesn’t stretch the imagination much to suggest that any further ‘efficiency’ savings (closures) will hit Bedford rather than the L&D.
“Despite warming assurances that this merger will save the A&E at Bedford, I am highly skeptical about the long term outlook.”
Yet, both hospitals maintain the merger will be see more pros than cons.
A spokesperson for the hospitals said: “Although there has been a delay in obtaining approval for this investment, and no firm date yet proposed to create a single Foundation NHS Trust, the partnership approach established by the two hospitals continues.
“Real progress has been made in exploring the opportunities this will bring such as developing collaborative working within Pathology and Information Management Technology (IMT) services.”
But Ms Feneley believes all services must remain available at both hospitals: “A large number of patients are elderly, they either can’t drive or are not comfortable driving long distances to unfamiliar places.
“We know there is no cost effective and reliable public transport. Additionally elderly patients rely heavily on a support network, this support network will not be able to spend up to three hours per day travelling across the county.”
She added further concerns about a centralised oncology service, which she says may force cancer patients to travel to the L&D, and cuts to community services also meaning large numbers of people will be travelling to a centralised location.
Despite all this, Stephen Conroy, CEO of Bedford Hospital and David Carter, CEO of L&D remain defiant.
“We both remain committed to pursuing these plans in the future as they provide the right solution to develop sustainable health care services for the growing local population,” they said.
And it seems our town leaders are with them in their frustration at merger uncertainty.
“I have no objection to collaborative approaches to back office functions as long as jobs are protected,” said Cllr Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for Health & Wellbeing at Bedford Borough Council.
“But in terms of frontline services, Bedford is a growing town and it needs a bigger hospital with better facilities, and the funds to make that possible, not this continued uncertainty over merger plans, which is bound to make recruitment and retention difficult.
“The hospitals and the people of Bedford Borough have been messed about by this Government, who have promised funding which they now won’t deliver.”
And the Mayor agrees. Dave Hodgson told us: “The merger must be a means to an end, namely helping to ensure the protection and enhancement of local health services.
“While a lack of government support and investment has stalled the merger itself, it is welcome that Bedford Hospital remains committed to key services such as A&E, maternity and children’s care.”
Meanwhile, Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Lab) says the issues with this merger go much deeper. “We were told that the merger was inevitable, and that it was the best way to secure vital services on both sites,” said Mr Yasin.
“Now it seems that because the Government are unwilling to release the funds to make this happen, the merger cannot happen – for now at least.
“I have sympathy with both hospitals, they have put a great deal of time and effort into developing these plans, only to be continually ignored by Government officials and Ministers.
“It isn’t good enough and I will be contacting the health Minister to say so. I’ll keep fighting for our hospital just as I have done since my election.”
Alistair Burt, Conservative MP for North Bedfordshire, agrees his Government must do more: “The continual delay to the merger plans is not welcome. I, and other MPs from Bedfordshire and Luton, will look to the incoming Government for renewed commitment, and soon.”
“Both Trusts deserve much better, and I will do all I can to help make this merger a reality.”
We asked NHS England and NHS Improvement why the merger plans were taking so long and when next steps were likely to take place.
A spokesperson told us: “The proposed merger between Bedford Hospital and Luton and Dunstable NHS Trusts is linked to a request for a large amount of capital, to upgrade and expand key facilities.
“Progress on this is dependent on the timing and outcome of the next Comprehensive Spending Review, so it is not possible at the moment to set out a definitive timeline.”