Hospitals merger referred to Competition Commission

The proposed merger of two NHS hospital trusts in Dorset is to be investigated by the Competition Commission.

Poole Hospital and Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals have already selected a board of directors to lead the combined entity.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said it referred the deal to the mergers watchdog amid concerns about allowing two competing trusts to combine.

Currently, the hospitals compete for GP referrals for specialist treatment.

Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Foundation Trust said the move was expected and welcomed.

'Patients' interests'

Tony Spotswood, who would become chief executive of the merged organisation, said: "There will now be a period of further analysis, which we anticipated, being the first foundation trusts in the UK to follow this process.

"It will hopefully reassure us all that a merger is indeed in the best interests of patients and staff."

A statement from the OFT said: "The evidence before the OFT is that the merger would combine two trusts that compete closely for GP referrals for many specialties and it is likely that the merger would result in few realistic alternative providers for patients and NHS commissioning groups."

The statement said the merger might reduce the hospitals' incentives to improve the quality of specialist services, which include rheumatology, rehabilitation, general medicine, general surgery, geriatric medicine, dermatology, clinical haematology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, cardiology and palliative medicine.

The trusts have previously said the merger was in the best interests of staff and patients in east Dorset and it would enable the hospitals to create centres of excellence.

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