FINANCIAL strains and the “stop-start” nature of merger plans have “challenged” capacity at a hospital, its annual plan says.

The annual operational plan of Poole Hospital NHS trust says that running the hospital is “unsustainable in its current form” and that its financial position is now “extremely challenging”.

In response to this, work to combine senior positions began at the end of last year, despite the controversial merger of the hospital with Royal Bournemouth still not having been signed-off.

Poole Hospital chief executive Debbie Fleming was appointed to the role overseeing both trusts in December in a move which, at the time, was said to be partly preparation for the pending amalgamation of services.

And the annual plan, published ahead of the board meeting of the Poole trust on Wednesday, says it was also made due to concerns about “significant” pressures facing the hospitals.

“Capacity at the trust is particularly challenged given its financial position and the stop-start nature of the plans to merge with RBCH,” it says.

“The trust has become increasingly challenged over the past 12 months as a consequence of staff shortages in a number of key areas, increasing demand, resulting in significant operation pressures.”

These issues prompted both hospitals to begin work on combining senior positions, including the chief executive role, in October.

With the planned merger of the two trusts still being considered by the Competition and Markets Authority, these appointments have been made on an interim basis.

The trusts have previously said they “hope” a decision will be made between April 2020 and April 2021.

First announced in 2017, the merger will see Royal Bournemouth hospital developed into a ‘major emergency’ centre and Poole Hospital into a ‘major planned care’ facility.

Designs for the new buildings are being drawn-up ahead of the completion of an outline business case which would allow it to receive the £147 million announced by the secretary of state at the time.

The move is part of county-wide measures aimed at avoiding a projected £158 million annual shortfall by 2021.

However, it has prompted heavy criticism from campaigners who have raised concerns about the impact of Poole Hospital losing its A&E department in favour of a single larger unit in Bournemouth.