Evidence is mounting that discussions are taking place over a cost-saving merger between the Countess of Chester, Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge hospitals.

The Chronicle has already reported on a leaked email following a meeting with a senior NHS manager which suggested the ‘direction of travel’ was towards setting up a single hospital, ‘somewhere near Ellesmere Port ’.

Chester’s Labour MP Chris Matheson launched the #countesscounts campaign to back the city hospital but was later reassured the merger plan had 'been rejected'.

Chester MP Chris Matheson

Now that proposal has resurfaced in the annual report of Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, responsible for Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge, which states: “The trust will explore with Countess of Chester Hospital the potential for the development of a single acute general hospital covering Wirral and West Cheshire within the next 10-15 years.”

Mr Matheson is not happy.

He told The Chronicle: “As regards to the merger plans, I warned about this several weeks ago and was assured it was not on the cards. So I’m not best pleased to find it back under discussion. The fundamental problem is that the NHS is being underfunded by a government that promised billions at the election but those promises have been exposed by their own backbenchers on the Commons health select committee.”

He added: “It’s now full speed ahead for the #countesscounts campaign and my position has not changed. I will fight with everything I have to protect our hospital and the NHS locally and nationally.”

The Countess of Chester Hospital A & E department

The merger plan was leaked following secret discussions concerning the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for Cheshire and Merseyside, which will show how health and care services will evolve over the next five years. The plan is due to be published at 4pm today (Wednesday, November 16) but Mr Matheson is not confident the public document will represent the true situation.

He explained: “The STP, in common with all STPs in the country, have been negotiated in secret with no public input.

“They are clearly a way of sharing services and capping funding for the NHS. The recent decision in Somerset to hand a £700m contract to Virgin shows privatisation is also on the agenda. Until there is proper public scrutiny of the plans they must be treated with suspicion.”

Tony Chambers, chief executive of the Countess of Chester Hospital

Tony Chambers , chief executive of the Countess, dismissed talk of a hospital merger in his September blog when he wrote: “It has been an unusual start to my working week here at The Countess. My Monday began reading local newspaper coverage reporting that the hospital at which I am chief executive is to be merged with a neighbouring trust.

“What’s more, the article went on to suggest that our hospital in Chester as well as others nearby will no longer be needed as care will instead be provided at a brand new hospital building in Ellesmere Port. I had been briefed that this story was in the offing and I feel it may be helpful for people to know that this coverage is the consequence of an informal or ‘leaked’ email, which we’ve not seen or been contacted about directly here at The Countess.

“It is not based on fact or an accurate reflection of any discussions and ambitions for the NHS that I’ve been involved in as part of my regular regional planning meetings.”

Ian Harvey, medical director and deputy chief executive at the Countess, said today (Wednesday, November 16): “To be absolutely clear there are no current plans to close either our Chester or Ellesmere Port hospitals. The focus of all our efforts and energy in The Countess right now is in preparing for our busiest winter months."

He added: “We are actively contributing towards an outline Cheshire and Merseyside Sustainability and Transformation Plan, which is due to be published today (Wednesday). While we routinely meet with counterparts from neighbouring hospitals, this does not mean we are now pursuing plans to build a new hospital.”