THE merger of the Poole and Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospital trusts completes today.

Initially set for July, following years of preparation, the launch date had been pushed back by the coronavirus outbreak.

However, earlier this year, following the easing of pressure on the NHS, health bosses gave the go-ahead to complete and the new University Hospitals Dorset trust has now come into being.

Tim Goodson, chief officer for NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: "On behalf of all of us here at NHS Dorset CCG I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the creation of University Hospitals Dorset.

"There is a huge amount of work gone into this merger over the years and it is reassuring to know that we have such a great team behind the new organisation including members of staff, countless volunteers and other supporters.

"I am confident the new trust will go on to do great things for people living in and around Dorset and look forward to a working closely together in the future. “

This merger marks a new chapter in a lengthy and often controversial process, under which Royal Bournemouth Hospital will eventually become a major emergency centre while Poole Hospital will have increased focus on planned treatment.

However, it is expected to take at least six years of work for the complete change of hospital services to come into full effect – and opposition to the move say they will continue to fight.

While the merger of the two trusts has been progressed as part of plans healthcare bosses say will cut costs and improve treatment, campaigners say the loss of Poole Hospital's accident and emergency department and maternity services, in particular, would be a huge mistake.

Debby Monkhouse, of Defend Dorset NHS, who despite the merger still hopes a local accident and emergency facility can remain in Poole, said: "As things stand, under the merger we will lose A&E, maternity and children's units at Poole.

"This would mean very long journey times for some Dorset residents in an emergency.

"We look forward to joint working with health managers on the option of "A&E Local" - a daytime full A&E at Poole."

Speaking after formal approval was given By NHS Improvement for the merger to complete, Debbie Fleming – the trust's joint chief executive – said: "This is excellent news as we know that we can serve local people better as the larger, more resilient University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust.

“This merger has been a very long time coming but we know it will bring huge benefits for patients and staff alike.

“Our new organisation will be able to make better use of resources and will be better placed to recruit and retain staff.

“Most importantly, by bringing services together, we can improve the quality of care provided for our patients.”

Joint chairman, David Moss, said there was “a lot to be done” but that the trusts were “well-placed” to complete the process.

Arrangements are already in place to manage this work with a “shadow” joint board established in December.