Nick Herbert's support for hospital trust merger is "totally conditional"

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has said that his support for the merger of two hospital trusts in West Sussex is “totally conditional” on retaining the full range of key services at both St Richard’s and Worthing hospitals.

Mr Herbert was speaking on BBC Southern Counties Radio following confirmation yesterday (15 December) that the Royal West Sussex NHS Trust and the Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust will merge to create a single acute trust on 1 April next year.

The Boards of the two hospital trusts believe that a merger will provide the best opportunity to achieve Foundation Trust status, a move that would give the new organisation more freedom and local accountability.

The merger may mean that, with equal status, both hospitals could retain consultant-led A&E, trauma and maternity services.  However, trust officials have stopped short of guaranteeing the full range of services on both sites.

Commenting on the merger, Mr Herbert said: "If it's the route to preserving services on both sites, at Worthing and St Richard's, which is what the whole community wants, then I'm behind this.  That's what the local MPs have all said, together, and we supported it on that conditional basis.

"But if it becomes the route by which the Primary Care Trust gets its way, what it originally wanted, which is the centralisation of services on one site, then I'm against it."

Mr Herbert welcomed the opportunity for a new organisation to obtain Foundation Trust status, but warned that it will need the support of local MPs, saying: "I will not support this process unless I'm absolutely certain that the intention is to keep accident and emergency services and maternity services on both sites. 

"One of the things that I've proposed is that the merged trust should be called the St Richard's and Worthing Trust or the Worthing and St Richard's Hospitals Trust, because I think that would demonstrate that the intention is to keep the full range of services on both sites.  If the authorities baulk at that and say "we can't call it that", that would make me wonder what's going on here."

Mr Herbert was asked if he agreed that the Fit for the Future process had now fostered a positive outcome.  He responded: "Well, that really does show the Christmas spirit, because I think it's the other way round.  I think Fit for the Future set the hospitals against each other and, in doing so, delayed these sensible talks.  We could have had this three years ago if this Fit for the Future process hadn't run the way it did.  They've put it on ice, it's not dead yet.  I've argued very strongly that it should be declared dead because it's wasted enormous sums of taxpayers money and created great anxiety on the part of the public who have worried about whether their services are going to be maintained or not.  I think the staff have suffered the most, because of the great uncertainty about their hospitals and their future jobs.

"The whole process has been appallingly managed and I think there will have to be a reckoning to find out exactly why it was that the Primary Care Trust was so divorced from what the local community were constantly saying. 

"People have had a very straightforward view.  West Sussex is a very big county geographically.  It takes a long time to get to places, the road links are bad as we all know, with the A27 and so on.  People were straightforwardly saying - look, we want services preserved at our local hospitals.  It's too far to go for A&E between Chichester and Worthing.  It's just too far."

Mr Herbert is now writing to the two Hospital Trusts to reiterate his concerns and seek further assurances that the merger will result in key services being preserved on both hospital sites.

The controversial Fit for the Future programme, which proposed the centralisation of key services on one site, was put on hold by the West Sussex Primary Care Trust on 7 October to await the outcome of merger talks between the two hospital trusts.  The PCT Board will meet again on 29 January to discuss the future of the programme.



Notes for Editors

1. A joint news release from the Boards of the Royal West Sussex NHS Trust and Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust, confirming the merger, can be seen at (title: Hospital Trusts to merge)

Christopher N Howarth