A plan to cut hospital waiting times and provide faster treatment by merging three hospital trusts has been put on hold after councils raised important concerns, it has been revealed.

The merger between Mid Essex, Southend, and Basildon and Thurrock hospital trusts was due to be implemented in April.

It would have been supported by a major transformation plan which includes measures such as "treat and transfer" with A&E patients stabilised at their local hospital before being moved to sites with specialist teams.

However Tom Abell, who is overseeing the transformation plan and is the deputy chief executive at the Southend trust, revealed the merger is on hold because Southend and Thurrock Council have called on health secretary Matt Hancock to scrutinise the transformation plan.

He said: “The delay to our formal merger is caused by the referral of our clinical reorganisation plans by Southend Council and Thurrock Council to the Secretary of State.

"It is important to note that the merger is a separate process to our clinical reorganisation – but the councils’ intervention in the latter has impacted our merger time-scale.

"This will remain the situation until the outcome of the review process is complete and the Secretary of State has responded to the referrals.

“We are not currently aware of a time-scale for his response but in the meantime continue to work across our hospital group to bring clinical and corporate teams together where we can, and where this is in the best interest of our patients, staff and communities.”

Merger plans published in May last year explain if the hospitals work together as one, patients will be able to receive treatment at any of the three sites resulting in improved wait times, including slashing cancer referral times.

There would also be improvements to safety, reduced infections and improvements in the workforce through standardised processes and procedures across the three hospitals.

Meanwhile, Mike Fieldhouse, secretary of Save Southend NHS, said the campaign group is “opposed” to the plans and warned it could endanger patients.

He said: “We are much opposed to the merger of the three hospital trusts in mid and south Essex and welcome the news that the plans for this have been put on hold.

“There is plenty of evidence to show that hospital mergers elsewhere have failed, ultimately harming patients and costing more money. One recent study showed that the average hospital merger caused a 41 per cent increase in patient harm, resulting in an additional £2.5million annual cost to the hospital.

“We believe the people of Essex will be best served by maintaining three independent Hospital Trusts.”