Hospital bosses have vowed not to reduce beds at Lichfield and Tamworth community hospitals in the wake of the proposed Derby/Burton NHS merger.
Plans to merge the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are well underway, with executives from both currently working on a final business plan, which should be published by February, 2018.
Affected hospitals include the Royal Derby Hospital and Queen's Hospital, in Burton, along with a number of community hospitals under the respective trusts' umbrellas.
These include Sir Robert Peel Community Hospital in Tamworth and Samuel Johnson Community Hospital, in Lichfield, which both belong to the Burton Trust, and London Road Community Hospital, also in Derby.
A number of public events have been held to explain to residents from the areas about the proposed merger.
These include a Healthwatch Conference in July, and two further dedicated merger information evenings in Derby and Burton on October 24 and October 26 respectively.
The public events saw questions raised by concerned residents about the future of the community hospitals, and how they would be affected if the merger goes ahead as planned.
But Magnus Harrison, the medical director at Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, insisted that fears beds could close at the two hospitals were misplaced.
Mr Harrison said: "At two community hospitals, in Lichfield and Tamworth, there are 75 beds between the two, minor injury units at both, a midwifery unit in Lichfield, which is also where there is a dialysis unit.
"We don't have any immediate plans to close any beds. I think we've got to be careful though, the beds might be badged as different things in the future, we may have to look at how we provide services in both of those hospitals in a different way but right now, there are no plans to take beds out."
Chief executive of the Derby trust, Gavin Boyle, who has already been appointed prospective chief executive of the combined trust, stressed that a key role of the merger was to ensure services were available closer to home through community hospitals.
Mr Boyle cited the example of renal services, the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases, as one service which would greatly benefit from the merger.
Mr Boyle said: "There is a real sense that we could be doing more with our community hospitals. I'm speaking about London Road, in Derby and the two community hospitals in Lichfield and Tamworth because they would be under the direct management of the new organisation.
"The conversation we're having with the STP is that we see a real future for those hospitals, we'd like their positions to be enhanced.
"If you take renal services for example, we are a specialist centre for renal services at Derby and what we'd like to do is offer better services for renal patients in Lichfield, where there is a dialysis unit.
"But we are really fortunate in Derby that our renal service is a national leader in home dialysis, so 40 per cent of our patients have home dialysis, and if you know anybody who is on renal dialysis, it’s a real pain in the neck having to come to the hospital for four or five hours, three times a week.
"So, if you can have this treatment in your home, in your own bed, that’s a real bonus. At the moment those patients in Lichfield and Tamworth, only ten per cent have access to home dialysis so that’s an example where we can reach out, develop the services more fully in the community hospitals in South Derbyshire, deliver a better standard of care to the patients and the people there."
The Burton and Derby hospital trusts merger so far
Final planning for the proposed merger is still being finalised and should be submitted and reviewed by the end of the year.
Earlier this year, in June, it was announced at a Healthwatch meeting that the outline business case for the partnership of the organisations, with a recommendation to merge, was approved.
Fears have been raised by many, particularly in Burton, that the hospital could lose services, including the accident and emergency department.
Concerns were raised that the A and E department at Queen’s Hospital could be downgraded to an urgent care centre, meaning it would not operate 24-7. The Burton Mail, as well as the town’s MP Andrew Griffiths, joined the fight to keep it open.
At the Healthwatch meeting it was confirmed by bosses from both respective trusts, Helen Scott-South from Burton and Gavin Boyle from Derby, that the A and E department would not close.
A new trust will be formed, if the current plans go ahead, under a new combined title.
The chairman will be John Rivers, the current chairman of both Derby and Burton trusts, and chief executive of Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gavin Boyle will take up the same role at the new trust.