Hospital bosses unanimously approve Ipswich and Colchester merger
PUBLISHED: 19:18 29 March 2018
Momentous plans to merge two of the region's biggest hospitals have reached the final hurdle after trust bosses showed unanimous approval.
Board members at Ipswich and Colchester trusts considered the full business case for the union during an extraordinary meeting today and all voted in support.
The blueprint will need sign-off from NHS regulators and health secretary Jeremy Hunt before the merger can go ahead.
If all goes to plan, the hospitals will start working as one under the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust from July this year.
Members of the public were invited to attend the meeting and share their views, but only around half of the seats at Ipswich Corn Exchange were filled.
In his opening presentation, Nick Hulme, chief executive of both hospitals, said the vision for the merger was to see patients at the right time, retain and attract the best staff and provide the latest treatment locally.
He added: “All our services are under incredible pressure and I’m very clear that neither organisation can sustain that incredible pressure, particularly with elective care and emergency care, without more resource and more staff and thinking quite radically about how we can deliver care differently.”
Mr Hunt has this week awarded Ipswich and Colchester hospitals £69 million in capital funding, and Mr Hulme said this was a “vote of confidence” in the merger.
One of the ambitions of the new trust is to make better use of technology such as emails, Skype and apps to ensure patients only visit the hospital for clinical reasons.
A woman in the audience urged board members to ensure information was still made accessible for people who can’t use a computer.
Under the merger, Ipswich will become a foundation trust and Mr Hulme said this would mean local people would be able to have a “legitimate say in the running of the organisation”. Colchester became a foundation trust in 2008.
Colchester councillor Julie Young spoke out in the meeting to oppose the merger.
She said: “What worries me is every change within the NHS costs money, this will cost money, so I can’t actually see what the benefits are rather than continuing with a collaborative arrangement.”
Ms Young called for “extra capacity” within the trusts, and told how Colchester A&E was understaffed when she visited recently.
The merger process has cost under £1m, according to Mr Hulme.
Jan Plummer from Colchester People’s Assembly raised concerns about extra travel for patients and staff if services were centralised at one site.
Mr Hulme assured this would only happen if there was a “clinical need” and the public would be formally consulted.
Anthony Dooley from Suffolk Community UNITE attended in protest against the merger amid fears over privatisation of services.
Lack of engagement with the public over the plans was a concern raised by a number of people at the meeting.
Felixstowe resident Michael Ninnmey said a paper version of the full business case should have been made available in public libraries.
He added: “I would to say I’m extremely disappointed with your engagement particularly with those of our age who are analog people.”
UNISON Eastern regional organiser Caroline Hennessy called on the boards to push back the date of the merger to allow for further consultation.
She said: “Your plans are very ambitious, especially by the date of July 1 given this will be the biggest trust in the region.
“I’m asking what is driving the pace of change for the merger and if the boards sign-off on the plans whether they would consider not putting a date on it until there’s been further consultation with staff and the public over the plans.”
Ali Bailey, director of communication at both hospitals, said engagement work had been going on since January 2017 and had involved various public events as well as digital interaction.
Mr Hulme said at the close of the meeting: “I have had those moments at 3am where you say ‘why on earth are we doing this, we could continue as we are, we have seen improvement at Colchester and Ipswich will remain as good a hospital as Colchester is and is it worth it?’
“I have been challenged by my colleagues with the same question and many of you in the public and I do genuinely believe this is the right thing to do for local people.”
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin attended the meeting and speaking to this newspaper after he said the merger “made sense” given the current climate of the NHS.