The NHS competition watchdog has ruled against plans for the merger of three East London Hospitals after London’s health authority approved them this week.
The Cooperation and Competition Panel claims the merger would reduce patient choice and that its benefits “do not outweigh the potential drawbacks.”
Tower Hamlets’ Royal London Hospital and Mile End Hospital are among those set to join what could become the country’s largest NHS trust with a turnover of £1.1 billion.
St Barts and the London hospital will merge with Whipps Cross and Newham NHS trusts if the union gets a green light from the Department of Health in April.
But the CCP is advising ministers that the move, backed by all three trusts, will deprive patients of alternatives by putting all the hospitals under one roof, and risks “stifling the development of alternative services and providers in future.”
The ruling comes one month after a leaked government document indicating plans to open NHS care to private providers, causing furore among health professionals.
CCP director Catherine Davies said: “We know there are some difficult challenges facing healthcare services in north east London but these proposals don’t necessarily provide the best solution.”
But Peter Morris, lead chief executive for the merger, said it was essential to “secure the long-term viability” of local services.
As financial pressures increase for hospitals across the country, the merger purports to cut of £26 from office functions and make frontline efficiency savings of £120.
Among the CPP’s proposals is removing Newham Hospital from the merger. The panel is consulting on other possibilities and has asked for responses by January 6.
Dr Mike Gill, medical director at Newham University Hospital, said: “The quality of clinical services would be severely tested without this merger. Excluding Newham from the merger will be bad for residents, patients, taxpayers and staff.”
Interviewed by EastLondonLines last month, Barts and the London medical director Dr. Steve Ryan said improving patient care was the key reason for the merger.
Ryan cited the Royal London’s hyper-acute stroke unit, which treats the most severe patients and leaves other hospitals to handle lesser cases.
He said: “By coming together, we can make sure that we do that for many more services – and much more quickly than we’ve been able to do.”
With more mergers planned in and around London, the decision will be closely watched.
Many thought CCP’s criteria excluded the issue of choice in London, where multiple hospital trusts are packed together in a small area.