Three London foundation trusts have confirmed they will be part of the capital's second academic health science centre, but denied a merger was on the cards 'for the foreseeable future'.
The venture will involve Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley foundation trusts and King's College London.
There is speculation the move will pave the way for a merger between King's College Hospital and Guy's and St Thomas'. The four organisations ruled this out at present, but confirmed they were looking at integrating governance and bringing together IT, human resources, estates management and financial systems.
King's College Hospital foundation trust chief executive Malcolm Lowe-Lauri said: "This is the beginning of bringing together the organisations in a more developed way and is not to be confused with other organisational change. We're not talking about a corporate merger."
He said the focus would be on how clinical services, research and training could be brought together. "If you're looking at providing services to upwards of two million patients a year and talking about a combined turnover of about£2bn... there are risks in over-simple solutions to governance," he said.
Mr Lowe-Lauri is stepping down as chief executive at the end of April to become chief executive of University Hospitals of Leicester trust. He said the move was because of "family and personal circumstances" and he was "fully committed" to the academic health science centre project.
The move will follow the creation of the UK's first academic health science centre last October, when Hammersmith Hospitals trust and St Mary's trust merged with Imperial College London. The new Imperial College Healthcare trust has one chief executive/principal and a managing director.
Stuart Bell, chief executive of South London and Maudsley foundation trust, said the King's group was looking at a different model.
"This is not about lumping together different organisations in one or another governance structure, but about the way in which we're going to link together as organisations to provide an academic health science centre," he told HSJ.
There would be more opportunity for joint work on physical and mental heath, he said.
Any changes to governance will have to be squared with foundation trust regulator Monitor and the Higher Education Funding Council.
Professor Robert Lechler, vice-principal of King's College's health schools, admitted one challenge was finding a way the two acute foundation trusts could work together without "competing". They already collaborate on some specialist services such as a joint cancer centre.
Professor Lechler said one advantage in integrating services was that they would be large enough to create "intelligent sub-specialisms".