ROYAL Bournemouth Hospital and Poole Hospital trusts could become one single organisation in just 12 months, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Plans for a merger of the two hospitals are now back on the table after health bosses unanimously agreed on controversial proposals to close Poole Hospital’s A&E, maternity and paediatrics units. Royal Bournemouth Hospital will become the major emergency hub for the east of the county, with Poole for planned care with a GP-led urgent care centre.

Bosses say operating the new model as two separate organisations will be ‘extremely difficult’, adding the move which would see the hospitals come under the same NHS management is now ‘key’.

The hospitals are now in talks with the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) for a second time – four years after it was blocked because it would ‘damage patients’ interests’ but the failed bid came at an estimated cost of £5m to the trusts.

If it goes ahead, it is certain to mean job losses, particularly among non-frontline staff but a spokesman said it was ‘too early’ to comment on the potential cost savings of a merger.

A statement from RBH said: ‘If all goes to plan, this (the merger) could happen within the next 12 to 18 months.’

In a joint statement Poole Hospital chief executive Debbie Fleming and RBCH’s Tony Spotswood, said: “The Dorset Clinical Services Review (CSR) represents a significant change to the way in which services are currently provided.

“Our two hospitals already work very closely together, but as Royal Bournemouth Hospital becomes the major emergency hospital and Poole Hospital the major planned hospital for east Dorset this will mean significantly more integration between our services.

“It is the shared view of both trusts that operating these new models of care would be extremely difficult as two separate organisations.

“We therefore believe that merger will be key to delivering the benefits for patients through the full implementation of the CSR.

“As a consequence we are working with the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) to see what steps we would need to take for them to reconsider the undertakings that prevented us from merging in the past and to reconsider the potential for merger. “Subject to CMA approval, and with full support from all parties, we could potentially see a new merged organisation by the spring of 2019. This proactive approach will help to ensure that patients in Dorset continue to have high quality, safe and affordable care both now and in the future.”

As previously reported, the trusts battled for two years to merge into a ‘super trust’. But in October 2013, it was blocked by the CMA who said it would ‘damage patients’ interests by eliminating competition and choice.’

However elsewhere in the country, various hospital mergers are being successfully passed including in Manchester and Bedfordshire.

Chief officer of NHS Dorset CCG Tim Goodson said commissioners ‘support the trusts coming together to create more single services across Dorset’ adding ‘a merger makes a lot of sense.’ He said: “We think having a single service approach is a better solution going forward.”

He added: “As we have gone through these proposals and our sustainability and transformation plans we have been promoting one acute network in Dorset.

“We really would like to see more of the services joined up across the three acute sites.

“There are clearly staffing pressures at the moment particularly on the consultant workforce but also on the nursing workforce and we think having more of a single service approach, even though it will be on multiple sites, is a better solution going forward rather than run or sustain three totally independent sites.

“We have plans to create single services so why not have one organisation running them, rather than two decision making, two boards, two funding streams. A merger makes a lot of sense.”