Western Sussex Hospital’s trust (WSHNFT) is proposing a merger with Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH) Trust to go ahead next month on 01 April, less than three weeks away. It will take place without public consultation and the trusts have still not released the business case, post transaction implementation plan and impact assessments explaining exactly what the merger will entail.
Sussex Defend the NHS are very concerned that there has been no formal, public consultation with any of the many communities seriously impacted by this reorganisation which will see BSUH, currently a place-based NHS trust aligned with unitary authority boundaries, become part of a larger foundation trust.
Campaigners expected all relevant bodies to be consulted i.e. the local authority health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC), local Health watch organisations, NHS trade unions and the public who are the patients of both trusts. HOSC was given an outline presentation last December, focusing mainly on a staff survey, not the detailed proposals.
Concerns are mounting that patients will have to travel further to access hospital services and that NHS contracts will continue to be outsourced to the private sector. Campaigners are also concerned that hospital land will be sold to private developers.
Steve Guy from Sussex Defend the NHS said: “Even local authority leaders have been unable to ascertain what the changes are going to mean for their constituents. The only authority that is aware of the trust’s plans is NHS England, as WSHNFT has had to submit a full business case to national health bosses in London before the merger was given the go-ahead.”
Unparalleled pressures on the NHS caused by the pandemic have understandably diverted all attention and resources to the frontline. However, this may have resulted in a refusal to engage in public consultation and a lack of transparency about the detailed plans arising from the merger which is now only weeks away.
To date only the shared executive team of Western hospitals and Brighton and Sussex hopsitals, their boards including governors of both trusts and a small number of unnamed ‘partners’ are the only people who have been fully briefed on the merger. No-one else has seen the business case, impact assessments or the post-transaction implementation plan for the first eighteen months.
Joint CEO of both NHS Trusts Dame Marianne Griffiths has done a lot of excellent work in turning around BSUH which was a trust in special measures and is now rated good overall by the CQC. However, several key players in the city including the unions and Sussex Defend the NHS feel they need to see the merger delayed while public consultation is undertaken. They would like to see more democratic accountability from the CEO.
Dame Marianne (Griffiths) who runs both trusts said to the Worthing Herald last July when the merger was announced: “We want everyone in our communities to play a part in shaping the future of health care in Sussex and their views will play a valuable role in building a new trust.”
She said to Brighton and Hove news: “I will update you on progress but please be assured there will be opportunities for you to ask any questions you have and feed into the future plans.”
A full business case was sent to NHS England and NHS Improvement last December but will only be shared with staff ‘in due course’ due to operational reasons.
A Brighton and Hove News reporter asked NHS England for a copy of the business case on Thursday 10 December six days after they got if from the two Sussex hospital trusts. On 07 January, he was advised to approach NHS Improvement by NHS England and he did this on the same day. On 28 January the request was refused on the ground of ‘imminent publication.’
The journalist asked for the decision to be reviewed on Tuesday 02 February and he has still not seen the business case, more than two months later. The business case, post-transaction implementation plan and impact assessments are still not in the public domain.
Mr Guy said: “Since WSHNFT CEO Marianne Griffiths has formally notified the health trade unions at both trusts, inviting them to talks aimed at arranging for staff at the Brighton hospitals to transfer to her trust, (known as TUPE, Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment), the health unions of both trusts have a right to demand that they are able to scrutinise the trust’s future plans as well.”
A spokesperson for Brighton and Sussex hospitals trust said: “The benefits of working together became even more apparent during the first wave of Coronavirus last year and, as the shared leadership arrangements were due for review, these benefits, and the potential gains from even greater integration, informed the boards’ decision, on 1 July 2020, to pursue a merger…
“A public consultation, however, is not required because we are not proposing a substantial change to services. In fact, we have committed to continuing to invest in the services delivered by WSHT and BSUH. The continuous improvement of all our patient services is the driving force behind our proposed merger and we are confident that by coming together we will continue to improve hospital care in Sussex.”