• Proposed merger between Weston Area Health and University Hospitals Bristol trusts
  • Comes after small Weston General Hospital closed its A&E overnight
  • Part of wider reconfiguration of services

The smallest acute trust in England is due to merge with its neighbour, after years struggling with unsustainable services.

University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust confirmed on Wednesday its intention to merge with its smaller neighbour, Weston Area Health Trust, which also supports the move.

The decision to merge had been widely anticipated, with Weston Area struggling to attract the staff to maintain a sustainable emergency service for years, but it has long been resisted.

Weston General Hospital has 262 beds and the trust has an annual income of just over £100m.

Bristol, which was rated outstanding in its last Care Quality Commission inspection, has an income of £640m and 949 beds across its hospitals.

The larger trust has been helping its neighbour since May 2017, especially after Weston General Hospital was forced to “temporarily” close its emergency department overnight in June.

The trusts already share some clinical staff, particularly in emergency care.

In September, North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group published a reconfiguration proposal for consultation – Healthy Weston – that signalled a downgrade of the hospital’s emergency services and a focus on outpatients and elective surgery.

The CCG also suggested Weston merge “with a larger organisation”.

Bristol chief executive Robert Woolley said: “Our shared goal remains to ensure hospital based services in Bristol and North Somerset provide high quality care to patients and families which are clinically and financially sustainable and we believe that a merger with Weston Area Health Trust could help achieve this goal.”

Weston chief executive James Rimmer said: “We believe we could make more rapid progress and improve our long term sustainability by formally merging with University Hospitals Bristol. We look forward to exploring this further with University Hospitals Bristol, in the context of the Healthy Weston  programme, over the coming months.”

The next step will be an appraisal of the clinical and financial benefits of merging, which if successful will lead to a full business case.

A merger would be scheduled for spring 2019 at the earliest.

The result of the Healthy Weston consultation is expected in spring the year.