• Senior figures have discussed potential merger of North Tees and Hartlepool, and South Tees foundation trusts
  • No decisions have been made but NHS Improvement is “fairly enthusiastic” about the idea, says South Tees chair
  • Comes amid plans for longer-term development of an ICP in south Teesside

Two acute trusts in the north east are exploring a possible merger as part of major changes to the region’s acute services, HSJ has learned.

The chair of South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust told HSJ a potential merger was part of talks held by senior managers.

Although no decisions have been made, Alan Downey said NHS Improvement has been involved in the talks and is “fairly enthusiastic” about the idea of a merger.

He told HSJ discussions about possible changes began about a year ago, with the main focus on developing a new integrated clinical strategy across South Tees, North Tees and Hartlepool FT and County Durham and Darlington FT.

He said: “There is also a workstream focusing on possible structural change, and one option is a merger between North and South Tees. No decisions have been taken yet [but] NHSI is a party to the discussions, and I think it is fair to say they are fairly enthusiastic about a merger.

“My view is that it makes sense in due course for there to be a single Tees Valley trust, so we are happy to talk about structural change. However, there has to be a convincing business case, and the case needs to include a robust financial plan for addressing the underlying financial deficit in the Tees Valley healthcare system.

“That’s not just my view. It represents the consensus of the South Tees board and senior leadership team.”

South Tees FT was approached for further comment, but said it had nothing further to add.

The talks of a merger come amid discussions of a longer-term development of an integrated care partnership in south Teesside as part of the Cumbria and North East Integrated Care System area.

The key focus is to construct clinical networks and centres of excellence at different provider locations, which could help to increase efficiency and reduce duplication.

Services would move between hospitals, and clinicians would be expected to work across sites, as pathways are redesigned. It would build upon current changes such as NTH and South Tees sharing their paediatric services together.

When HSJ asked NTH about discussions of the merger option, chair Paul Garvin said: “We are working with three trusts, NHSI and the ICS looking at a range of possible options that will deliver the best possible clinical outcomes for our patients. Patient safety remains at the centre of our priorities as an organisation.

“The board continues to hold responsibility for considering the likely impact on patient care arising from any structural change.

“It is far too early to speculate what the likely outcome of this work may be.”

HSJ also asked NHSI about the talks and a spokesman said: “Any proposals regarding changes to organisational structures or services would be a decision for the trusts, in consultation with staff and partners and, where appropriate, the public.

“NHS England and Improvement would undertake our standard assurance processes.”

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Revealed: Acute trusts in talks over possible merger