• Chief and senior team of three Essex trusts to recommend full merger to boards on Wednesday
  • Merged trust would be one of the biggest providers in the NHS
  • Trusts previously said they had “no intention” to merge and campaigners will oppose move

The joint chief executive and senior team of three Essex acute trusts will recommend controversial plans to merge next year to create one of the largest trusts in the NHS, HSJ can reveal.

Leaders from Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust, Southend University Hospital FT and Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust will discuss the move at their joint leadership team meeting tomorrow.

Clare Panniker

Clare Panniker: ‘The recommended option is for our trusts to work towards becoming a single organisation’

The trusts have been developing a “group model” to run their hospitals under one leadership team with a “flexible workforce” since 2016.

However, the original group model agreement said there was no intention to merge the trusts – and the change will face fierce hostility from local campaigners, clinicians and politicians if it gets the green light.

A merged entity would have combined revenue of around £945m making it the eleventh biggest NHS provider, based on last year’s turnover figures.

Clare Panniker, who is chief executive of all three trusts in an unprecedented arrangement, is leading the proposals.

A paper for the board meeting, written by other senior executives on the joint leadership team, said: “Our aspiration would be for a new organisation to come into being by April 2019.”

The recommendation follows an “appraisal exercise” in December by KPMG. “The preferred outcome of the options appraisal scoring exercise was for a proposed three way merger,” the report said.

Lobby group Save Southend NHS, which is supported by several local senior clinicians who have spoken to HSJ, said it was “very much opposed to the merger [because it] would inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of services available locally to patients; plus the potential implications for staff contracts, conditions and pay are huge too”.

Save Southend NHS secretary Mike Fieldhouse said: “We want to see a fully operational general hospital kept at each site and not one hospital with three sites. If a merger happens we have no doubt that individual specialist services will be concentrated on one site, meaning patients will have to travel much further for treatment.

“In all likelihood, [NHS leaders] would create an A&E ‘super centre’ at Basildon and downgrade Southend and Broomfield to walk in centres – exactly what we and the vast majority of local residents have been fighting so hard to resist.”

Ms Panniker said in a statement to HSJ: “A number of options on the way we work together in the longer term have been tested in a rigorous appraisal process carried out by members of the three boards, individual site leadership teams [and] governors/patient council representatives.

“The recommended option is to work as one organisation and for our trusts to work towards becoming a single organisation on 1 April 2019.

“If the boards of each trust approve the recommended option, the next step will be to produce a strategic business case to set out what needs to be done to seek the formal approval of our regulators, our councils of governors, and presents the opportunity to engage more widely with our stakeholders and local community.”

The news comes with the trusts consulting until March on a major acute reconfiguration. The plans have been significantly watered down since they were first discussed in 2016, following patient and clinician opposition.

The East of England Clinical Senate’s review, published in February 2017, warned that the plans attempted to try to retain virtually all the current services on all three acute sites.

The senate said the plans would not deliver long term sustainability and advocated a “bolder” approach, which could involve one of the three emergency departments being upgraded and one downgraded to a minor injuries unit.

Exclusive: Senior leaders of three trusts to recommend merger