Full steam ahead for merger of hospitals in Bedford and Luton and Dunstable

Fears that Bedford Hospital will be the ‘poor relation’ after it merges with the Luton & Dunstable Hospital emerged at a meeting this week.

Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 11:47 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 12:47 pm
Bedford hospital

Full steam ahead for Bedford / L&D hospital merger

Fears that Bedford Hospital will be the ‘poor relation’ after it merges with the Luton & Dunstable Hospital emerged at a meeting this week.

The merger process to create the new Bedfordshire Foundation Trust is moving ahead after the Government released £99million of capital funding in the summer.

But Bedford Borough Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee was told this week that none of that £99million is coming to Bedford, which remains with a long term debt burden.

At the same time as it has debts around its neck, Bedford Hospital is crying out for investment in its Accident & Emergency department, the committee heard on Monday (October 7).

Stephen Conroy, the outgoing chief executive of Bedford Hospital told councillors that they were hoping that the new trust would be able to plough surplus back into Bedford Hospital.

Cllr Dean Crofts (Lib Dem, Kingsbrook) asked Mr Conroy: “There have been reports that the majority of the £99million will be spent in Luton & Dunstable, is that correct, and how much will be coming to Bedford?”

Mr Conroy replied: “That is correct and no, there’s nothing in Bedford for that, and that was never the basis for the bid.

“Bedford has a three year plan and funding is required for IT investment, new CT scanners, and to expand the A&E department, and for two more theatres.

“What we’re expecting in the new foundation trust is they will be in surplus from day one. Bedford has been in debt for most of the time I’ve been here, so we haven’t been able to reinvest any surplus in our site.

“The L&D has been in surplus and been able to reinvest tens of millions in its site. We are expecting that the new foundation will make a surplus and we will have another new opportunity to get capital for the Bedford site.”

Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) said she was “thinking of Bedford as a poor relation” and “we will see how that works out.”

But Mr Conroy said: “I don’t want to speak for the Luton site but it is cr*p. Their problem is their estate, ours is our historic debt. We have a complementary position. Although some of it’s older, we’ve looked after it better but their site isn’t all joined up. It needs significant redevelopment.

“It’s going to take about five years to finish that and during that time we have to run a good service for all our patients and I think we’ve got a big challenge to deliver that change. But I’m confident that the meagre amount of capital we need for the Bedford site can be found.”

Mr Conroy said the first task with the merger is to combine the leadership teams of the new organisation. He expects this to be ready by April, which is when he will be stepping down. After then, he said the full merger will take about two years.

But he said on a number of occasions during the meeting that “all services will stay on both sites. We’re not downgrading A&E, maternity, or paediatrics.”

Back office teams for management, such as finance, and HR will be “pulled together”, and there will be a single trust board by next April. After then, the plan is to talk to staff, and especially clinical staff, to see how services can work better.

Mr Conroy said that with MRI scans, which currently happen on both sites, it could be a case of offering patients a choice to travel to the other hospital. He said both hospitals have six day working, so one of them might work on Sundays.

“It has to be clinically led,” he said. “If the clinicians don’t own it, it won’t work.”

Mr Conroy said: “Most staff will stay in both places. There has been no financial failure or black hole, or any quality failure. We’re doing this for the benefit of staff and patients.

“There will be no immediate impact on patient services and we are not planning big changes. We are talking about small services, like microbiology, or where we have just one or two people, where we might concentrate on one site. The vast majority of services won’t move at all.

“If in 18 months time the clinicians come back with some changes, we’d have to bring those back to you.”