The proposed merger between Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust and Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Foundation Trust has been ‘provisionally cleared’ by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The CMA found that the merged organisations would “face significant competitive pressures from other local hospitals”.

The proposed merger hit a stumbling block in February when the CMA said it would investigate because it was concerned the merger could have “adverse effects” for patients by diminishing the choice of services on offer.

It has been concerned that patient choice could be restricted in elective specialties, potentially affecting “tens of thousands… each year”.

However, Simon Polito, chair of the inquiry group at the CMA, said there are a number of hospitals in the local area which attract “significant numbers of patients… We consider that these are viewed as credible alternatives by patients and GPs.

“Against this background, and following a detailed investigation, we are satisfied that in each of the services where the hospitals overlap, the merged trust will face significant competitive pressures from other local hospitals.

“We have therefore provisionally concluded that the merger is not likely to lead to a substantial lessening of competition that would reduce the range or quality of healthcare services provided to patients and we are proposing to allow it to proceed.”

The CMA will publish its final report on the merger in October. It had planned to publish in August but pushed it back because of a delay in accessing hospital episode statistics to inform its analysis.

If the CMA gives final approval the two trust boards will consider the full business case and financial plans. Monitor will then assess the merger proposals. The new organisation could begin operating from next summer.

Suzanne Rankin, chief executive of Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals, said: “We are really pleased to see that the CMA has granted provisional clearance for the two trusts to merge. Our proposal to merge is based around securing a stronger future for our two organisations which will allow us to deliver a number of important patient benefits, including more consultant care at weekends and increased investment in facilities and technology.”

Nick Moberly, chief executive of the Royal Surrey County Hospital, said:  “While there is still a lot of hard work to do, today’s announcement marks a very positive step forward in our plans. Subject to approval by both boards to move to the next stage, we will embark on a wide engagement campaign to ensure people understand what these proposals mean for both patients and staff, and to hear their views.”