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30.04.19

Delayed hospital merger at centre of Bedford mayoral election as candidates desperate to retain NHS services

A delayed merger between two hospital trusts that will save £10m to £14m “needs to happen,” according to a councillor and mayoral candidate ahead of an election race in Bedford.

Luton and Dunstable University Hospital Trust (LDUH) announced the proposals to acquire Bedford Hospital Trust (BHT) in 2017, with a completed merger planned for April 2018.

But the merger has since been delayed after the Treasury turned down a funding bid and financial agreements with NHS Improvement “were not yet in place.”

A year on and with no new date announced, the merger is now in doubt unless the government agrees to stump up £100m to pay for the project.

The hospitals are currently waiting for alternative funding plans to be worked out, and the merger has become a vital issue in the election race to become mayor, with candidates desperate to retain NHS services in in Bedford.

Gianni Carofano, a cabinet member at Bedford Borough Council, said that BHT’s merger with Luton and Dunstable “needs to happen” in order to release millions of pounds for frontline NHS services.

One of five mayoral candidates in Thursday’s Bedford mayoral election, Carofano stressed the significance of cutting running costs in half by merging the two trusts, and said: “£10-14m is a lot of money that can be invested in front line services - in doctors and nurses.”

But Labour’s mayoral candidate Jenni Jackson has expressed scepticism about the merger, stating that “perhaps the money would be far better spent extending facilities here.”

She did say that if it was the only way of retaining core NHS services in Bedford then the merger needed to go ahead quickly, whilst Green Party candidate Adrian Spurrel said the heavy delays to the merger had caused uncertainty, staff leaving and a fall in productivity.

The current mayor of Bedford, Liberal Democrat Dave Hodgson, said it was essential that Bedford retains its A&E, maternity and paediatric departments.

He stated: “There are 2,000 births in Bedford Hospital every year - no other hospital in the area can cope with these births if we don't have maternity services here.”

A joint integration board with executive representatives from both trusts continues to meet to discuss the merger plans, but in February it was reported that the trusts were considering steps in case the merger does not go ahead.

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