So news of a merger between Bedford and Luton Hospitals was inevitably met with much caution and suspicion.
It is early days and we await to see how this continues to be sold to the public. There is some reassurance in that the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes STP is seen as one of the more advanced partnerships in the country, with a framework to consult with the public and unions as its plans are taken forward.
The RCN has a place on the STP’s local workforce advisory board (LWAB), which will start early next year as part of the shared arrangement with other trade unions.
The STP has become an Accountable Care System which is the enabling status for a faster track implementation process. The 16 NHS providers and local social care providers are developing an alliance infrastructure of collaboration for governance and financial management and it seems mergers of the statutory bodies are also likely.
While the STP has facilitated staff, patient and public engagement, it has been accepted this has been focussed on NHS secondary to date. We are told that a greater emphasis on social and primary care input will now follow ahead of implementation next year.
In the meantime it is secondary care that has remained the focus following the announcement in the media of the merger between Luton and Bedford hospitals to become one foundation trust.
The hospitals’ leaders said they were treating the move as a merger and not a takeover, and that key services such as A&E, maternity and paediatrics will remain at both sites – a pledge which patients and staff will keep a close watch on.
Bedford Hospital chief executive Stephen Conroy told the Bedford Times & Citizen. “We’re at the early stages of this, and a full business case won’t be approved until Christmas.”
Conroy said the decision would also provide stability and would be “the driver to provide the best possible hospital services for all our patients across the whole of Bedfordshire”.
Both hospitals claim that the move will bring stability at a time of uncertainty in local healthcare.
The uncertainty they allude to is undoubtedly linked to the STP and other changes expected as it strives to achieve its ambitions of affordable healthcare and a focus on prevention and care close to home.
Inevitably though, we can expect to see more services merged between Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes. The RCN will continue to monitor these developments.