Major NHS Shake-Up ‘To Cut Costs’

Plans have been revealed for a series of mergers in the Welsh NHS with the aim of cutting bureaucracy and delivering better care for patients. Health minister Edwina Hart has given the go-ahead for seven health trusts to discuss creating three larger bodies.

Ms Hart has already approved one merger between Pontypridd and Rhondda and North Glamorgan NHS Trusts. Conservatives claimed it showed the Labour-Plaid coalition government was coming round to Tory “way of thinking”. The Pontypridd and Rhondda and North Glamorgan NHS Trusts would merge to form the Cwm Taff NHS Trust by 1 April, 2008, according to Ms Hart.

She also approved the possibility of a merger between Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Derwen and Carmarthenshire NHS Trusts to be reviewed. This would happen by next April, following consultation between the three trusts, community health councils and staff associations.

The third proposal involves bringing together Swansea and Bro Morgannwg NHS Trusts, who have said they will begin discussions. Ms Hart said: “My ultimate priority is better services for patients. “I believe that by streamlining the management of these trusts the benefits of joint working will mean more robust management, greater strategic direction and better care for patients.” She added that the views of staff and the public would be taken into consideration in all cases.

Managers at the west Wales trusts said a merger would allow hospitals to pool skills and safeguard and develop patient services as well as lead to opportunities for efficiency savings. If Swansea and Bro Morgannwg joined forces, it would include Neath Port Talbot, Singleton, Morriston and Princess of Wales hospitals and serve 500,000 people.

John Carr, chairman of Swansea NHS Trust, said both trusts already co-operated on a range of issues. “We are both successful trusts and the time is right to be more ambitious about the future strategic agenda,” he said. “Pooling our considerable experience and expertise will enable us to take advantage of many opportunities to improve the service we offer our patients.”

Win Griffiths, his counterpart at the Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust, said it would be a great challenge to both trusts. “I look forward to wide-ranging discussions across our health communities to ensure a positive outcome for our vision,” he said.

A project board will now be set up and report back to the two existing trusts in early autumn. The Welsh Conservatives said they were happy to consider any proposal that “reduces bureaucracy” in the NHS.

However, shadow health minister Jonathan Morgan AM added that they were concerned at how the mergers will deal with the level of debts Welsh trusts had experienced. He added: “I welcome the fact that the assembly government appears to be coming around to the Welsh Conservatives’ way of thinking. The previous two health ministers were unwilling to even listen to the arguments. It is clear that Edwina Hart is prepared to listen to alternative views.”