• Bedford Hospital Trust and Luton and Dunstable FT pushing forward with merger plans 
  • Trusts will attempt to bid for capital funding after ongoing financial issues 
  • No final deadline for merger set, having once been planned for April 2018

A trust chief executive has said merging with its leading neighbour is ‘inevitable’ despite ongoing failures to secure funding.

Speaking to HSJ, chief executive of Bedford Hospital Trust Stephen Conroy said both his trust and Luton and Dunstable University Hospital Foundation Trust remain “committed” to the merger, although a final deadline is yet to be set.

Luton announced plans to acquire BHT in September 2017 with a view to officially merging by April 2018.

This was pushed back to April 2019 as financial agreements with NHS Improvement were “not yet in place”. Plans then faced another setback in December last year after Luton’s capital bid for funding to NHS England was unsuccessful.

Mr Conroy said the trusts attempted to find alternative funding sources. However, they were unsuccessful.

Trust bosses now plan on bidding for a portion of the next round of NHS capital funding – which Mr Conroy admits will “take some time”, adding: “We are accepting that there is a significant delay.”

The business case outlining financial plans for the merger has set out £110m of capital investment to replace core infrastructure.

When asked if he is confident the merger will still go ahead, Mr Conroy said: “As much as we can be. What we can’t say is it is going to go ahead next year or the year after because there’s no date.

“Given the support for it, it is inevitable. We get on very well with Luton and Dunstable and our relationship has improved, we haven’t fallen out or anything and there is still joint work going on.

“There is a long history there and I think it is inevitable, we just can’t put a date on it.”

After failing to secure capital funding in December, board level discussions took place about how the two trusts will work together if the merger does not proceed.

This included the sharing of pathology and IT services.

Mr Conroy added no firm plans exist at the moment to merge any more services, although they are looking into potentially sharing diagnostics.

A Luton and Dunstable FT spokesperson said the merger plans “provide the right solution to develop sustainable healthcare services for the growing local population”.

The spokesperson added: “Both trusts entered into discussions around the merger with an absolute commitment to make this a reality and have worked extremely hard in the planning for this proposal.

“We both remain committed to pursuing these plans in the future as they provide the right solution to develop sustainable healthcare services for the growing local population.

“A business case for capital investment has been submitted, outlining the means by which the full benefits of the merger would be realised.

“The value of capital investment set out in the business case is £110m to replace core acute service infrastructure.”