Merger plan for children's hospital

THE Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, ought to lose its independence and merge with University College London Hospitals, North-East Thames regional health authority proposed yesterday in a decision that threw hospitals in central London into renewed uncertainty.

The proposal brought a stinging response from the world-famous children's hospital, which has just completed a pounds 50m rebuild; UCLH, which only last week appeared to have secured its future, dubbed the proposal 'premature'.

Under yesterday's package the region proposed that the internationally respected National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery should move out of Queen Square to be merged into the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.

Its buildings, which abut the Great Ormond Street hospital, would then house UCLH, which would have to give up its University College Hospital and Middlesex Hospital sites, with UCLH and Great Ormond Street merging as one trust. To allow those options to be studied the region is opposing moves for Great Ormond Street, UCLH and the National to become NHS Trusts next year. Virginia Bottomley must make a decision early next year on whether their trust applications are approved.

In a statement the region said the changes need to be studied as one way of reconciling 'competing imperatives on medical education, research and development and services in north central London'. UCLH believed its future had been assured by Virginia Bottomley last week, providing it cut its costs and concentrated services on one of its two existing sites.

Charles Marshall, chief excutive of UCLH, said the proposals to merge it with Great Ormond Street was premature while Sir Anthony Tippet, chief executive of Great Ormond Street hospital, said it was important it 'continues to have its independence'. He said it would not have that if it was merged; children's interests could be endangered if it became a department of a larger hospital.