Board merger of two East London NHS trusts paused

Barts Health and Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals (BHRUT) said they will take ‘forward on the scope’ of a three-way collaboration that includes Homerton Hospital, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Credit: George Clerk via Canva

A merger of the executive teams managing East London’s two hospital trusts has been paused.

In October last year, two hospital trusts serving most of East London – Barts Health and Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals (BHRUT) – announced that they planned to form a “single group executive team”.

Combined, the trusts manage seven hospitals that provide planned and emergency hospital treatment to more than two million East Londoners.

However, on Monday (22nd January), the trusts announced they have “decided to pause” a full merger of their executive boards.

According to the statement, they will instead “take forward on the scope” of a three-way collaboration that also includes Homerton Healthcare, in Hackney.

Pausing the merger of executive teams, which already share a chair-in-common and group chief executive, reportedly follows a request from NHS England.

Barts Health, BHRUT and Homerton already share some clinical resources through an “acute provider collaborative” (APC) which aims to take a “joint approach” to planning and organising key services like urgent and emergency care, cancer, critical care, and planned care.

A spokesperson for Homerton said the single-hospital trust – which is rated “outstanding” by health inspectors – has never asked or applied to join the proposed Barts NHS Group.

They added: “The ‘pause’ will shift the focus from corporate reorganisation to collaboration between separate provider trusts through the Acute Provider Collaborative. Development of APCs is going on across London.”

Homerton’s chair and chief executive both now chair APC committees that oversee the clinical collaboration. However, public details of how the APC works together are limited.

As recently as October last year, Barts Health and BHRUT said they would deliver “better results, more effectively and efficiently” by combining resources “where appropriate” .

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Despite gradually merging their executive teams, and planning to slowly become a single group of seven hospitals known as “Barts NHS Group”, the trusts say they would remain separate organisations that only centralise “where necessary”.

Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge recently told the Local Democracy Reporting Service it is “clear” that the trusts plan to merge at some point.

She added: “My concern is resources will be concentrated in central and inner London at the expense of outer East London, which has very poor health outcomes.”

BHRUT’s Queens Hospital, in Romford, and King George Hospital, in Goodmayes, have some of the longest A&E waiting times in the country, although this has begun to improve under chief executive Matthew Trainer.

It also has a longstanding financial deficit.

Announcing the pause, Jacqui Smith, who was appointed chair-in-common of both Barts and BHRUT in 2021, said: “Our aim remains to create the conditions in which clinicians can collaborate more easily, and our hospitals routinely work together to improve services for patients.”

At a  council scrutiny meeting this week, Jacqui said the hospital group would “consult” on any changes to services.

However, she said: “There are certain services specialising in one area… where we can make sure we have best expertise in one place, with access to pre and post procedure care, closer to home.”

Jacqui Smith (pictured) is the chair-in-common of both Barts and BHRUT NHS trusts, Image: Barts Health

Barts Health, BHRUT and Homerton are all within the area overseen by a new regional NHS body, NHS North East London, which was formed in 2022.

Barts Health runs Whipps Cross Hospital, The Royal London Hospital, Newham University Hospital, Mile End Hospital and St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Whipps Cross Hospital and Newham Hospital both joined the trust in 2012.

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