PATIENTS who live in the Tendring area could face long and costly journeys to Ipswich Hospital for specialist treatments if a trust merger goes ahead, it is feared.

The boards of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust and The Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust have announced they will meet in public to discuss options for taking their partnership forward.

Bosses of the trust which runs Colchester General Hospital have always insisted a merger was not on the cards but now the recommendation is they form “a single combined organisation with fully integrated services”.

According to a business case, both hospitals will always maintain emergency departments, a 24-hour service for urgent medical care and full doctor-led maternity services.

But a decision on whether specialist services will only be available at one of the hospitals has not been taken and is unlikely to be publicised until early next year.

Hospital chiefs point out it is only 20 miles between the two hospitals.

But Tendring councillor Ivan Henderson, who has campaigned for better services at Harwich’s Fryatt hospital, wants health bosses to consider patients.

He said: “The Fellowship for the Sick provide a shuttle bus for patients in Harwich to go to Colchester.

“If services are moved to Ipswich patients will have to get a train, change at Manningtree to get to Ipswich then get a bus.

“Years ago we talked about bringing more medical services closer to home and we are doing the exact opposite.”This is about finances and nothing about improving services.

“They need to think about the people needing to get to these services.”

Nick Hulme, who has served as chief executive of both trusts for more than a year, said: “It is a tremendous opportunity for us to change the way we do things, to be bold, innovative and imaginative in delivering the best possible healthcare to people who live in east Suffolk and north east Essex.”

Other options which have been considered are for a merger but with only some services being integrated and for one trust to acquire another.

Among the potential benefits of the plan are a potential saving of £40million in running costs, bringing waiting times down by 25 per cent, reducing staff vacancies from 15 per cent to just over seven per cent and for them to invest £70 million in buildings and equipment over the next five years.

Hospital bosses believe staying alone as separate organisations means they would struggle to maintain the range of patient services they provide and difficulty in attracting skilled workers to the area could mean services are moved to larger regional centres like London, Cambridge or Norwich.

If the boards approve the case, both trusts will then go onto develop detailed plans for the combined organisation.

A final decision to form a single organisation will likely be made by the boards in June next year which will have to ratified by regulators NHS Improvement and the Competition and Markets Authority.

A public consultation is set to be held.

Care Quality Commission inspectors visited Colchester General Hospital last month but the results of the visit are yet to be announced. The trust has been in special measures since 2013 but Ipswich Hospital is rated as good.

Chairman of both trusts David White backed the plan.

He said: “By thinking differently and working together we can change the way we deliver care and provide excellent services that are vital for the future of the communities we serve.

“Many patients, staff and supporters have helped us to get to this stage in our partnership and I am immensely grateful for their time and effort.”

Accountable officer for North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group Sam Hepplewhite said: “Our communities in north east Essex need healthcare services which are reliable, easy to access and very high quality.

“This case shows how a partnership of hospitals can help us to offer that level of care sustainably in the future.”

The joint board meeting is on Thursday at 10.30am until 11.30am at Langham Community Centre in Colchester.