Ipswich and Colchester hospital boards vote in favour of merger despite public outcry

Members of the public taking their seats at the Ipswich and Colchester hospital board meeting at Lan

Members of the public taking their seats at the Ipswich and Colchester hospital board meeting at Langham Community Centre. Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL - Credit: Archant

There were stormy scenes as members of the public protested against moves to merge Ipswich and Colchester hospitals at a meeting today, with one furious woman marching out of the room in tears.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, following a board meeting at Langha

Nick Hulme, chief executive of Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, following a board meeting at Langham Community Centre. Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL - Credit: Archant

Despite criticism, bosses gave the green-light to an outline business case, which means a full blueprint for fusing the trusts into a single organisation can now be put together before a final decision is made early next year.

If all goes to plan, the change will take place in June 2018.

Shane Gordon, director of integration, said the hospitals were looking at the possibility of a combined trauma and orthopaedic unit as well a cardiology service for those with coronary syndrome, which includes heart attack and angina.

Chairman David White struggled to keep the packed out Langham Community Centre under control while plans were unveiled.

One Colchester resident was brought to tears and stormed out of the room after challenging leaders about nurses’ pay, saying: “I’m going because this is a total waste of time”.

Self-professed “independent troublemaker” Trevor Lockwood demanded to know how patients from rural Suffolk villages were supposed to get to early morning appointments in Colchester if certain services were stopped at Ipswich Hospital.

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Nick Hulme, chief executive of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said it was “highly likely” that a shuttle bus would run between the two sites, but added that no significant clinical changes would go ahead without full public consultation.

Deputy leader of Colchester Borough Council, Tim Young, said engagement from the trusts with local authorities “has not been good”, which Mr Hulme accepted and assured there would be “much more robust” communication with the public and partner organisations during the next stage of the process.

A meeting in public of the Ipswich and Colchester board members, who approved outline plans for a me

A meeting in public of the Ipswich and Colchester board members, who approved outline plans for a merger between the two hospitals. Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL - Credit: Archant

One GP who attended as a member of the public feared the merger would have a detrimental impact on ambulance response times if certain specialists were based at one of the hospitals and not the other, meaning paramedics might have to travel further with patients.

While a Halstead resident said bosses should concentrate their energies on ensuring both hospitals were fully staffed before considering a marriage.

On the contrary, Mr Gordon said he hoped the move would help to attract and retain more skilled clinicians as well as offering greater opportunities for training.

Responding to a question from former Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell, Mr Hulme said both hospitals would retain their own names and identities.

Mr Hulme said he believed medium-sized district general hospitals were soon to be a thing of the past.

Describing the NHS as the “most precious jewel that we should hold most dear”, he said the system was designed in the 1940s when life-expectancy was 15 to 20 years fewer and it now needed to adapt in order to meet the needs of a growing and aging population with more complex health problems.

Staff redundancies would be made as a “last resort”, Mr Hulme added.

Ahead of the vote, which saw leaders supporting the merger, Andrew George, non-executive director at Ipswich Hospital, said: “The single biggest benefit to this is there is no plan B.

“We can’t go on as we are because the NHS nationally is in the throes of a staffing challenge which it’s never experienced before.

“We need to be absolutely crystal clear about the benefits and the risks as we go forward with this.”

Richard Kearton, also a non-executive director at Ipswich Hospital, said: “I think we will be looking back on this in 10 years time and with the benefit of hindsight saying it was the right thing to do.”

Director of nursing at Ipswich Hospital, Lisa Nobes, said clinicians backed the merger.

She added: “They work every day with significant workforce challenges across both sties and they are very supportive of a closer working relationship.”

Dr Barbara Buckley, managing director of Colchester Hospital, said: “I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity for not only us but future generations.”

Ipswich and Colchester hospitals want to form a “partnership of equals”, said Mr White, adding: “This is not about takeovers, that may have been the NHS of old but it’s certainly not the NHS that the boards want to be part of and we very much see this as a collaborative approach with both trusts benefitting.”

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