Two hospital trusts – Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH) and Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation trust are due to merge in two weeks’ time on 01 April.
Chief executive Dame Marianne Griffiths DBE said: “The biggest global health crisis in a century has taught us many lessons this year but for health services none has been more important than the value of working together to keep patients safe and achieve the very best outcomes we possibly can.
“In Sussex, our collaborative approach had already delivered many benefits by the time Covid-19 engulfed us all, but it was the onset of the pandemic that strengthened our resolve to explore a merger. Our joint-response to the first wave demonstrated the improved benefits and resilience of acting as one, as well as the limitations of maintaining separation.
“In July 2020, when we formally took the decision to explore a merger, we opened the door to a future in which we can continue to deliver consistently excellent care for patients as well as provide fulfilling careers for our staff in a new organisation that would truly be better for everyone.”
NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) describe the strategic reasons for the merger of the two hospital trusts as ‘clear’ and ‘strongly supported.’ This is ahead of a key meeting of both boards to decide whether a formal application of the two trusts should proceed to merger.
The two hospital trusts have been working together for four years under a joint management contract that expires on 31 March 2021. During this time, BSUH has become the fastest improving acute hospital trust in England. BSUH came out of special measures and earned a Care Quality Commission rating of ‘good’ overall and ‘outstanding’ for caring although the trust’s responsiveness still ‘requires improvement.’
Western Hospitals maintained its own outstanding status and also became the first non-specialist acute trust to achieve outstanding ratings in all key inspection areas. The boards propose to build upon these achievements and further improve hospital services for patients in Sussex by bringing the best of both trusts together to create a new, larger organisation called University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (UHSussex).
A public board meeting that will finalise the merger of the two hospital trusts will be held virtually in public at 2pm tomorrow, Thursday 18 March. You can watch it live using this link.
It has taken the trusts and joint executive board six months to plan the merger and they have followed a rigorous process to assess the case for change. This process was organised by NHS England that oversees the creation of all foundation trusts and NHS Improvement (NHSEI.)
A strategic outline case was approved in September 2020 and it was in response to the submission of a full business case (FBC) that NHSEI wrote to the trusts on 9 March 2021 to provide a formal merger risk rating.
In each of the key areas NHSEI assesses, such as strategy, quality and finance, the proposed merger has received a rating of Green (strategy) and Amber/Green (quality, finance and transaction execution). These risk ratings provide the boards with further assurance that the merger plans are well thought through, safe and effective.
On Thursday the full business case (FBC) will be published that sets out a compelling case for change as well as a broad range of benefits that would advantage patients, staff and communities across Sussex.
For patients, these include greater continuity of care and better access to services, as well as increased support for services under pressure due to national challenges, such as increasing demand, workforce availability and financial pressures.
University Hospitals Sussex would employ nearly 20,000 people across five main hospital sites in Sussex, with an operating budget of more than £1 billion. The FBC cites the proposed new hospital trust’s size and breadth as a key factor that would help address challenges that both BSUH and WSHT have in common with the rest of the NHS following the pandemic.
Chief medical officer, Dr George Findlay, said: “We have made many improvements in recent years but it is getting harder to continue to improve our services in isolation. By working together, we can benefit from both greater scale and more opportunities to learn from each other and to do things differently.
“For example, we are developing an exciting five year clinical strategy to explore where we can make the best improvements for our patients and develop new services that ensure fewer people in Sussex have to travel elsewhere for high quality hospital care.
“It is important to recognise that our clinical strategy work also cements our commitment to continuing to invest in all the services we currently provide, including emergency, specialist, tertiary and trauma care.
“We are committed to developing our vibrant local hospitals and maintaining the services we know local people treasure, such as A&E and maternity care. By coming together as one trust, we will have the experience, expertise, funds and influence to safeguard and improve hospitals services in Sussex.
“We wish to reassure our patients that we are taking a careful and considered approach and there will be no immediate changes to any of our clinical services as a result of the merger. The driving force behind our plans is our ambition to continually improve the care we provide and we look forward to involving our patients and the communities we serve in future developments.”
University Hospitals Sussex would run seven hospitals in Chichester, Worthing, Shoreham, Haywards Health and Brighton and Hove, as well as numerous community and satellite services. The two hospital trusts would be responsible for all district general acute services for Brighton and Hove, West and Mid Sussex and parts of East Sussex.
It would also provide specialised and tertiary services across Sussex and parts of the South East, including neuroscience, arterial vascular surgery, neonatology, specialised paediatric, cardiac, cancer, renal, infectious diseases and HIV medicine services.
On Thursday (18 March) the board of directors meeting is followed by a meeting of the WSHT Council of Governors who must also give their support, along with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, before a statutory application to merge the two trusts can be made to NHSEI.