• Spinal service at Portsmouth Hospitals Trust to be transferred to University Hospitals Southampton Foundation Trust
  • Service was considered unsustainable in 2015
  • Agreeing clinical model has taken more than three years
  • Loss of service will cost Portsmouth £530,000 annually 

“Unsustainable” spinal services are set to be transferred from a cash strapped acute provider to its tertiary neighbour after three years of uncertainty.

University Hospitals Southampton Foundation Trust will start taking over the services from Portsmouth Hospitals Trust from November, subject to ratification from both trusts’ boards. 

The transfer means Portsmouth will lose around £530,000 of income every year, but the service has long been considered unsustainable at the trust.

In April 2015, the trust told its commissioners that pressures on its spinal services had reached a “critical point”, and that outpatient and surgical waiting lists had increased to “unsustainable levels”.

The trust has only one substantive consultant working for the service, amid a national shortage of spinal surgeons. Extra support has been given by a retired consultant. 

Later in 2015, it was agreed that Portsmouth’s spinal service would be “consolidated” with the Wessex Regional Spinal Service, which is provided by UHS.

Both trusts believe it would be easier to attract more consultants if the service was centralised.

The transfer was initially planned to be completed by April 2016, but the scheme hit a number of blockages as managers and doctors could not agree a clinical model – except for Portsmouth’s emergency spinal patients.

However, this summer the trusts’ boards are in the process of ratifying final proposals for all outpatient and inpatient work (around 200 patients).

This will lead to UHS starting to take over the whole service in November, according to board papers from South Eastern Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

UHS has agreed a deal with Care UK to rent theatre space at Southampton Treatment Centre in the Royal South Hants Hospital, which will provide extra capacity for the spinal service.

Asked if Portsmouth’s spinal consultant had agreed to move to UHS, a spokesman for UHS said “discussions were ongoing”.

A PHT spokeswoman confirmed the trust would lose around half a million pounds worth of income annually from the service transfer.

The trust recorded a £34m deficit last year after initially planning for a £9m surplus.

Last year, vascular services were transferred from Portsmouth to Southampton, while some renal services went the other way.