The NHS trusts for Brighton and Worthing are exploring a merger as Royal Sussex County Hospital bosses wrestle with a projected £60 million overspend.
Staff have expressed concern about the effect on jobs and patient services.
The proposed merger is part of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for the new Coastal Sussex area. It is being led by the chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Marianne Griffiths.
The emergence of the merger proposal comes shortly after Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH) – the NHS trust that runs the Royal Sussex – was placed in “financial special measures”.
As a result the trust, which also runs the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and the Sussex Eye Hospital, is being closely monitored by a regulatory body called NHS Improvement.
The neurology and neurosciences service has recently moved to the Royal Sussex which is now the regional trauma centre.
Previously trust bosses tried to close the maternity service at the PRH. The plan was dropped after a huge outcry and robust public campaign.
Critics of the STP process are concerned that plans are being drawn up with little or no public input yet may contain controversial and unpopular measures.
Some have pointed to the closure of family doctors’ surgeries as a sign of the challenges facing the NHS – not just in the Brighton and Hove area.
BSUH recorded a deficit of about £45 million last year and has estimated a potential deficit of £60 million this year.
It has an annual budget of £550 million and – as well as being in financial special measures – is also in special measures for the quality of its care.
It has an annual budget of almost £420 million and in the past financial year it recorded a deficit of just £8 million deficit.
NHS trusts commonly end the year in deficit at the moment but BSUH was way over even the revised total that it had agreed.
Both BSUH and Western Sussex Hospitals have submitted their contribution towards the STP to NHS bosses overseeing an area covering East Surrey and Sussex. Their plans went in just over a fortnight ago.
A key aim of the STP is to bring the trust finances back into balance across the area.
The STP process in East Surrey and Sussex is being chaired by Michael Wilson, a former deputy chief executive of BSUH.
The merger proposal is expected to be discussed by the current BSUH board within weeks. The board is not expected to be in a position to resist the proposal.
She said that she had been appointed the lead for the Coastal Sussex area which covers West Sussex and is one of three areas within the East Surrey and Sussex STP footprint. The other two are East Sussex and the M23 corridor.
BSUH could technically sit within East or West Sussex. Brighton and Hove was formerly in the administrative county of East Sussex while the PRH is in the West Sussex town of Haywards Heath.
But a merger with East Sussex Healthcare – the trust that runs the Eastbourne District General Hospital and the Conquest Hospital in Hastings – is thought to be much less likely.
East Sussex Healthcare has been – like BSUH – rated inadequate by the CQC and is on course for a deficit of £31 million in the current financial year. It has an annual budget of about £365 million.
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