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New fears that Warrington Hospital could merge - meeting hears
THERE are renewed fears that Warrington Hospital could be drawn into a merger with hospitals in St Helens and Knowsley.
A report presented to an open board meeting of Whiston and St Helens hospitals yesterday spelled out that the proposals may be considered.
St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is saddled with £42m yearly bills to repay a £350million private finance initiative that funded the construction of two hospitals.
Following the reorganisation of the NHS, the trust has been left with a £20m funding black hole and the Government is holding out supplying money from a bail out fund.
Department of Health chiefs want to be convinced that Whiston and St Helens have the necessary financial and clinical viability to achieve foundation status – a requirement for all hospitals in coming years – before releasing the funds.
Bosses at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust were asked to review St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust’s plans and their report, detailed at Wednesday’s meeting, revealed there have been talks over a link up with Warrington, which already has foundation trust status.
The report stated: “The chief executive of Warrington Hospital Foundation Trust confirmed she would be keen to continue discussions relating to working more closely with the Trust (St Helens and Knowsley NHS ), including the concept of merger.”
How any such collaboration or merger between the two health organisations would unfold is unclear, and the report did not go in to specific detail.
However, Whiston and St Helens Hospitals are equipped with cutting edge facilities and, if a link up went ahead, there would be concerns Warrington patients may have to travel to the neighbouring boroughs for some forms of treatment.
A proposed merger would also draw widespread opposition, with Labour politicians and union leaders setting out their objections at Wednesday’s meeting at Whiston Hospital.
Colm Byrne, regional officer with the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Even if you merge or collaborate with another hospital that (PFI repayments) will not go away.
“And Warrington has its own problems – with buildings that are not fit to purpose, they have their own PFI plans and the people of Warrington will not want to travel to Whiston for their healthcare.”
A spokesman for Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:
“Our board has now seen the North of England SHA review regarding St Helen’s and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and would stress that there are no plans and there has been no discussion about a possible takeover of that trust, or any merger.
“We do work closely with St Helens and Knowsley and already have some partnership arrangements in place for the benefit of our patients such as work to provide stroke services that ensures patients do not have to travel any further afield. We are also currently exploring how we can work together to deliver some pathology services.
“As an existing NHS Foundation Trust, with an excellent recent track record of service improvement and financial management, we have the ability to explore how we might work with other organisations to ensure that our local communities continue to receive high quality, safe healthcare now and in the future.
“We’re always keen to play a key role in the development of services and help explore any collaborative opportunities where it is felt that there would be benefits to patients.
"However, it was very clear at the St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals board meeting where the report was discussed that they aim to move forwards towards Foundation Trust status themselves.”