Bath hospitals merger could go ahead in spring
Two hospitals in Bath could be merged as early as spring of next year.
Plans have been announced to bring together the management of the Royal United Hospital and the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, known as the Min.
This is dependant on the RUH becoming a foundation trust, giving it greater financial independence, which is expected to happen by the end of this year.
The boards of both hospitals have approved the merger, saying it made sense to have one big foundation trust rather than two smaller ones.
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The move will also ensure the future of the historic Min, which has been experiencing financial difficulties.
The hospital has a turnover of just £21 million and has been struggling with a decline in referrals for its specialist services.
Medical director Dr Ashok Bhalla said: "The Min has financial difficulties and this merger will safeguard our services for us.
"It will also give us the chance to enhance the services we provide."
The merger has been talked about for a while, and officials at both hospitals are looking forward to making it a reality.
RUH chief executive James Scott said: "There are financial challenges with the Min that we need to address, and we thought that it was important to join the two hospitals together.
"We see the merger as the Bath community coming together.
"Patients' welfare is at the heart of all we do, and we believe this merger will benefit both our patients and those who are treated at the Min."
The planned merger has concerned Debbie Cook, who is the director of the National Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) Society.
AS is a painful, progressive, rheumatic disease which affects 200,000 people in the UK.
Patients can attend a residential course at the Min and Mrs Cook feared they would not get the same support at the RUH.
She said: "The merger will have a massive impact on our members. The support network that helps patients deal with the anxiety and stress of the condition will be lost."
However, Dr Bhalla said the service would not be affected.
He said: "We are not going to stop a service that is successful and helps patients.
"The consultant on the AS course is adamant that the service will continue after the merger.
"Patients do not need to worry that they will lose this vital support network."
Chair of the B&NES Clinical Commissioning group and GP at St James's Surgery Dr Ian Orpen is supporting the merger.
He said: "This has been on the cards for a while and it makes sense because of the Min's financial problems. Doing nothing was not an option.
"We had to look at solutions that make sense and are practical, as well as benefiting the people of Bath. We believe the merger does all three."