• Controversial overhaul of Dorset’s acute services given green light by health secretary after independent review 
  • Plans will see Poole Hospital lose its A&E department while Royal Bournemouth Hospital will become major emergency care provider 

The health secretary has given the green light to a major overhaul of Dorset’s acute hospital services, including the long-planned downgrade of Poole’s A&E department.

The controversial plans — backed by Matt Hancock on Tuesday — will see Poole Hospital Foundation Trust’s A&E department downgraded to an urgent care centre, while the rest of the hospital will provide planned care for east Dorset. The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals FT is now set to become a major emergency care provider for the region.

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group first announced proposals to split emergency and elective services between the two hospitals in 2015, as part of the region’s health chiefs’ plans to reduce elective waiting times and provide a more efficient service. 

However, the reconfiguration attracted strong opposition from campaigners, who brought an unsuccessful judicial review against the CCG in July 2018. Plans were delayed again later on that year after Dorset county councillors wrote to Mr Hancock, outlining their concerns.

The health and social care secretary called for the independent reconfiguration panel — a national body which investigates concerns with major healthcare development plans — to review the proposals in June 2019. The IRP has now recommended the reconfiguration should go ahead and Mr Hancock has accepted the decision.

Chief officer at Dorset CCG, Tim Goodson, said: “We are very pleased that we are now able to move forward in the process of securing a significant investment of £147m into local healthcare and proceed with changes that will make a real difference to local people.

“The plans have passed each stage of independent scrutiny because we have followed the correct process.

“The plans were clinically-led and designed and are supported by all the NHS organisations in Dorset because they will bring investment and patient benefits.

“The current approach is simply not sustainable, everyone acknowledges this. With this news, we will now be able to focus on delivering the patient benefits that these plans will bring.

“We also welcome, and look forward to, the opportunity to work together with all interested parties, and the public, to rapidly progress these proposals for the benefit of our local communities.”

The plans include: 

  • £147m investment in acute hospital services, including a new emergency department and critical care unit at Royal Bournemouth Hospital;
  • Redevelopment and investment in Poole Hospital to create a new urgent treatment centre and 14 theatres;
  • A new women’s and children’s unit on the eastern side of Dorset; and
  • Networks of clinical services for stroke, cardiac and cancer services.

Dorset’s integrated care system has been allocated £147m of capital funding from the Department of Health and Social Care for the reconfiguration.

A long-planned merger of RBCH and Poole Hospitals is expected to go ahead this year. A spokesman for RBCH said the merger will be a “great enabler” for the reconfiguration, however it is not essential for the plans to go ahead.

A spokesperson for NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The trusts have notified the Competition and Markets Authority of their intention to merge and are in discussions with CMA about the proposed merger. The trusts are expecting the CMA to commence a formal review in the coming months.”