The merger of the hospitals in Ipswich and Colchester has been successful for five years, according to the chief executive

Radiologists test-drive a novel treatment

According to the trust's CEO, the merger of two hospitals has been a "significant success.".

On July 1, 2018, Ipswich and Colchester combined their services to form the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT).

The CEO, Nick Hulme, stated that he "sincerely believes it has resulted in better outcomes" for patients.

There is a "disconnect between staff at both sites," according to the union Unison.

According to Mr. Hulme, the merger prevented the relocation of local services like radiotherapy.

The trust is now beginning microwave ablation therapy, a specialized treatment for kidney and liver cancers that reduces a patient's exposure to radiation.

The trust has, according to the chief executive, one of the lowest vacancy rates of any NHS trust in England because of the flexibility and variety of services offered there.

Colchester Hospital front entrance
The fact that support services work in Colchester is kept in-house while it is outsourced to private companies in Ipswich has drawn criticism from the union Unison.

According to Mr. Hulme, the trust currently has a vacancy rate of 4% as opposed to 10% in other areas of England.

"I genuinely believe that the merger of the hospitals in Ipswich and Colchester, as a result of the significant investment we have seen, has resulted in better care outcomes and shorter waiting times. ".

Members of Unison in the East of England are still "reeling from the pandemic - they're all exhausted and overworked," according to Caroline Hennessy, regional head of health for Unison.

The trade union also claimed that while Colchester's equivalent staff were employed directly by the NHS, some support service work at Ipswich Hospital had been outsourced to a company called OCS. The trust promised to investigate this claim.

Five years later, nothing has changed; the trust is still delaying its decision regarding those support staff, according to Ms. Hennessy.

"We want them to feel like they are a part of the NHS and the trust.

"They currently earn less per hour than Colchester employees, receive no sick pay, take fewer holidays, and pay more for parking. ".

The BBC has requested responses from the hospitals trust and OCS regarding Unison's grievances.

By Nikki Fox, health correspondent for BBC East.

Hospital mergers give hospitals more purchasing power, which benefits patients and can be financially beneficial. Because they have more patients on their books, they can submit bids for more contracts and services.

More treatments are available, and care is getting more individualized as the NHS approaches its 75-year anniversary. Therefore, we can anticipate more mergers in the future, or at the very least, collaboration between hospitals to offer specialized services at various locations.

A full merger, however, is difficult to accomplish. Health inspectors at the CQC recently stated that despite the merger of Mid and South Essex, which includes the primary hospitals at Southend, Broomfield near Chelmsford, and Basildon, taking place three years ago, it is still "in progress.".   .

System integration, service redesign, and staff buy-in are challenging, and those who have planned well have seen better outcomes. The majority of patients I've talked to are okay with traveling a little to receive better care, but it needs to be well planned.

David Bancroft, 76, is sitting down wearing a grey t-shirt and cardigan while waiting to see spinal specialists in Ipswich Hospital
According to David Bancroft, he didn't care about the hospitals' twinning because all he wanted was to get medical attention.

After collapsing and breaking his back in the hospital in April, David Bancroft, 76, from Clacton in Essex, was moved from Colchester Hospital to Ipswich to see spinal specialists.

No matter where they sent me, I just wanted to finish it, he said.

"The transfer was fairly effective. however, I was only concerned with finishing it because I wanted to return to my normal life and feet.

Dr Simon Smith in front of radiology computers.
More specialized treatments, according to Dr. Simon Smith, will draw radiologists during a shortage of qualified candidates.

As a result of the merger, patients no longer needed to travel to Cambridge, Norwich, or London, according to Dr. Simon Smith, a consultant radiologist at Ipswich Hospital.

He claimed that there was a need for radiologists, especially in the east of England, and that being a center offering procedures not typically available at smaller hospitals helped make "the place more attractive" in terms of recruitment.

RCN picket outside Colchester Hospital
Prior to the pay dispute in 2023, members of the Royal College of Nursing picketed in front of Colchester Hospital.

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