HOSPITAL bosses are “bitterly disappointed” after being told they still need to prove the case for merging the Royal Bournemouth and Poole trusts.

They now believe the move, which they say is vital to preserve key services, is very unlikely to go ahead after being blocked by the Competition Commission yesterday.

Last night Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals chief executive Tony Spotswood and Poole Hospital chief executive Chris Bown told the Echo: “We are bitterly disappointed that the interests of competition are being put before the interests of patients, their care, welfare and safety.

“The Competition Commission asserts that the merger, with the number of management organisations reducing from two to one, will reduce patient choice.

“We plan to maintain two viable hospitals. The trusts have emphasised that they provide complementary services, work together collaboratively, do not compete, and wish to come together to protect and enhance services for patients and residents of Poole and Bournemouth.”

The Competition Commission claims that local patients could lose choice across nearly 60 services, including maternity, if they become managed by a single organisation. It has now given the trusts more time to provide evidence that any loss of patient choice would be outweighed by the benefits of the merger.

The commission is due to make its final decision by August 26.

Poole Hospital chief executive Chris Bown has already warned that without the merger his trust is likely to go into the red next year and could end up being placed into administration.

“We’ve got to find a way for Poole, Bournemouth and every other trust in the country to survive stringent reductions as costs continue to rise,” he said.

“If the Competition Commission has the ability to block attempts to make the NHS sustainable, that has implications for the whole of the country.”

Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals chief executive Tony Spotswood said: “The decision ... undoubtedly raises questions as to whether this is an appropriate process to follow in judging NHS mergers.”

The trusts plan to raise that issue “at the highest level”. They are meeting with their advisors today to work on their response and are worried about the continuing uncertainty over their plans for a new maternity unit, improved care for emergency patients and facilities for patients with cancer and blood disorders.

The proposed merger would be the first in England between two NHS hospital foundation trusts.

Both chief executives say the Competition Commission process is “not fit for purpose”.

Yesterday NHS England said that if the health service in England continues to deliver care the way it currently is, there will be a funding gap of £30 billion between 2013 and 2021, even if the health budget is protected.

So to maintain a health service that is ''free at the point of use'' a new approach to the delivery of services is ''urgently needed'', they said. Read the full story here.