STRUCTURE: The boards of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals and Poole Hospital foundation trusts have agreed to pursue a merger in order to ensure the retention of “sustainable local services”.

In a joint statement the trusts said the decision to progress to a “formal and public stage” in the merger process by producing a business plan was a response to the “significant challenges facing the NHS over the coming years”. These include the need to povide more consultant-delivered care 24 hours a day, the move to treat more patients in the community and the efficiency challenge.

Poole has a turnover of about £189m while Royal Bournemouth reported an operating income of £234m in 2010-11.

Bournemouth chair Jane Stichbury, said: “Developing the right kind of services for patients is extremely important. The next few years will be very challenging and while we perform well as individual trusts, together we will be in a better position to meet local health needs, providing excellent, sustainable services.”

A final decision on whether to pursue a merger will be made once the business plan has been produced. The plan is expected to explore the potential for developing centres of excellence by bringing together the skills, expertise and technology from both organisations.

Poole chair Angela Schofield said: “Our decision is firmly fixed on the benefits that a merged organisation can provide for the local community. Having the capability to sustain and develop services in the future is vital.”

Poole Hospital Trust has a Monitor governance risk rating of three, where five is the best, and was found to be in significant breach of the terms of its authorisation last year due to its financial performance in 2009-10. It has yet to be removed from breach and last month warned it could finish 2011-12 in deficit.

Bournemouth has a financial risk rating of five and a governance risk rating of amber green.

Poole chief executive Chris Bown said: “These decisions are made in recognition of the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead and of our responsibility to ensure that first class health services can continue to be provided and developed over the coming years. Our focus remains on delivering the best healthcare services to our patients.”