• South Tyneside and City Hospitals Sunderland will explore merging
  • The trusts already share a chief executive and have a joint executive team
  • Providers will begin a “detailed business planning process” for three to five years

A pair of acute foundation trusts are exploring the possibility of merging into a single provider.

South Tyneside Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland FT said in a joint statement they are thinking of uniting the providers into one organisation.

The trusts said the decision to begin looking at what a merger would look like and what benefits it could bring followed discussions with their governors.

The statement said the organisations will begin a “detailed business planning process” for the next three to five years, exploring the benefits of a merger.

It continued: “The boards of both South Tyneside Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust, following discussions with trust governors in South Tyneside and Sunderland, have shared a mutual desire to begin exploring the possibility of becoming one organisation in the future.

“Leaders now share the unanimous view that it is the right time to start thinking about what a possible merger of both organisations might look like and, importantly, what further benefits this could bring for both patients and staff in future.

“Both trusts have today signalled their intentions to explore whether a possible merger would bring further benefits for patients and to begin a detailed strategic business planning process looking ahead to the next three to five years.”

The organisations signed a partnership agreement in April 2016 to set up the South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group, which is responsible for running all hospital and community services at both trusts, serving 430,000 people.

A joint executive board went live in November 2016, following Sunderland’s chief executive, Ken Bremner, being appointed leader of both trusts in September, with South Tyneside’s Steve Williamson as deputy chief executive.

Although the trusts remain statutory organisations with their own boards, the group said the single management team has made initial savings of more than £500,000.

But both trusts had repeatedly said this integration would not trigger a merger.

Mr Bremner said the announcement was just the start of a conversation and the trusts will engage with patients, staff and stakeholders.

He added: “We have made great strides since coming together to form the South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group with many clear benefits for our patients.

“We know, however, that there is still much more to do and this starts with exploring whether we should cement the relationship between our two trusts for the long term.”

The region ran a consultation last year that proposed shifting hospital based stroke, maternity, gynaecology and paediatric services from South Tyneside to Sunderland.

The overhaul aims to tackle the recruitment challenges, inability to hit clinical standards, difficulty meeting national guidelines, and reduce the bill for locum doctors. It is the first phase of reconfiguration with more proposals covering other services expected to be announced later this year.