Exclusive interview: Mayor slams the state of hospital merger plans

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Plans to merge Bedford, Milton Keynes and Luton hospitals have been described as a mess by Mayor Dave Hodgson.

The Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) is designed to merge services between all three hospitals.

But while Mr Hodgson is sympathetic to the ideas in principle, he believes the current scheme:

> Would not stand up to his own council’s standards of financial rigour;

> Has not engaged with the public during its six-month existence;

> Has excluded council chiefs and politicians from the process; and

> Will eventually make it easier to close key hospital services in Bedford.

Mr Hodgson said: “At the very beginning we asked the STP board to join us by saying we’ll do our utmost to protect Bedford’s A&E, maternity and paediatrics.

“Those are the three things that have always been under threat, that people are concerned about, and that experts say you have to keep in order to stop everything else falling like a deck of cards.

“If we had just come out and said that then I think people would feel a lot more comfortable with the whole process.

“But the STP board would not do it.”

The mayor published the STP’s current report against the wishes of NHS England, which oversees the health service nationally. This report can be seen onour website.

He said: “I think we will end up with one hospital and one clinical commissioning group for all of Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes, with the three hospitals across the current sites.

“In terms of saving money – with only one chief executive, one set of financial records, and shared back office staff - it makes sense.

“But having just one hospital trust also makes it a lot easier to close services, something we have seen happen elsewhere.”

A merger of Bedford and Milton Keynes hospitals has

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been touted on many occasions in recent years, including when the chief executive of Bedford moved to Milton Keynes in 2013, closely followed by a number of senior staff.

Since then there have been a catalogue of regional healthcare reviews, with the last three of them - Healthier Together, the Bedford and Milton Keynes Healthcare Review, and the STP - costing a combined total of £7.3million to date.

Mr Hodgson said: “I am uncomfortable because of where we’ve been before.

“There have been two expensive reviews which went nowhere, and the STP has already cost £600,000.”

The mayor added further criticism of the finances and public engagement.

He said: “What the STP have produced so far is an incredibly poor document. Just like the Bedford and Milton Keynes Healthcare Review it leaves more questions than it provides answers.

“The council’s head of finance has said that he wouldn’t sign this off; he can see where they’ve got their numbers from, but he’d certainly want to do more work to see how robust those figures actually are.”

He added: “There’s been no public engagement, none at all. Meanwhile we have our chief executive who sits on the STP board, but every paper he was sent he was told was confidential and not to be seen by anyone who wasn’t on the board.

“He kept to that, and then was publicly bawled out by the board’s lead Pauline Philip for not telling councillors for not sharing the information.

“It’s very, very strange.”