THE merger of Royal Surrey County Hospital with Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals has been put on hold due to concerns it may not be financially viable.

Subject to full regulatory, board and governor approvals, the proposed new organisation was on track to launch this summer at the earliest.

But the boards of both NHS Foundation Trusts announced they had decided to pause the process to allow more time to focus on the “deteriorating” financial position faced by the Royal Surrey.

The five-year plan for the Royal Surrey from 2014 estimated it would have a deficit of £1.4m in the financial year 2016/17 but it has risen to around £11.5m.

Both hospitals have so far spent £2.2m each progressing the merger transaction. Ashford and St Peter’s deficit for 2016/17 is £167,000.

Citing pressures on the NHS nationally, both financially and operationally, with the deteriorating financial position at Royal Surrey as a “significant contributing factor”, both trusts now consider the current merger plans would not deliver sufficient benefits to make them viable.

They are pausing the detailed merger work to focus on getting the finances back on track in order to ensure the new organisation will be successful.

Both trusts said they still believe creating a bigger, stronger organisation is one of the best ways to secure and protect high quality services for patients, but they now look for savings and better ways of working together.

Royal Surrey chairman John Denning, said: “This is not a decision our boards have taken lightly, particularly as we have put a lot of work and effort into these plans to date.

“We are both clear that resolving our immediate financial difficulties has to be our priority over the coming months. This is very much a joint decision and one that both boards feel puts us in a mutually beneficial position to create the solid foundation needed for the new organisation to be successful.

“Both boards still believe that creating a bigger, stronger organisation is one of the best ways to secure and protect high quality services for our patients, but this has to be done at the right time.”

Ashford and St Peter’s chairman Aileen McLeish added: “We appreciate this pause creates uncertainty, particularly for our staff, but it’s clearly in everyone’s interests to make sure we are pursuing the right plans at the right time.

“We have always said we will only do this if it is in the best interests of our patients and addressing these immediate issues is the best way to secure a sound future for both patients and staff.”

nThe Royal Surrey reported robust contingency plans ensured 2,387 outpatient appointments still went ahead when junior doctors walked out for 48 hours at 8am, last Wednesday, as part of their latest strike action over the terms of their new contract imposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Tory MP for South West Surrey.

The industrial action did not affect emergency care, a hospital spokesman told The Herald.

In total, 222 outpatients appointments and 97 surgical procedures were postponed and affected patients will have their appointments or operations rescheduled as soon as possible.

More than 5,000 appointments and surgeries were postponed as a result of the strike action, across the UK, but a poll by Ipsos MORI showed public opposition to junior doctors taking industrial action, had fallen from 22 per cent to 17 per cent, and support remained strong at 65 per cent.

The British medical Association (BMA) is set to launch a judicial review into the Government’s decision to impose a new contract on junior doctors in England, claiming it failed to follow due process.

Two further two-day walkouts that will not affect emergency cover are due to take place from 8am on April 6 to 8am on April 8, and from 8am on April 26 to 8am on April 28.

Defending his decision to impose a new contract, Mr Hunt said morale was low in the medical profession, and he again blamed the BMA for escalating the dispute.