A MERGER of mid and south Essex office staff is underway with 500 back room staff moving into a Southend-based centre.

The merger of Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals is said to be on hold following the referral of plans to transform local healthcare to the Health Secretary.

The Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership plans, which include creating specialist centres at the three hospitals, were referred after concerns were raised by Southend and Thurrock councils.

The referral has meant £118m of funding has been frozen but plans to move support services such as procurement, finance and HR staff to Britannia House in Comet Way, Southend are set to go ahead this month.

The move is aimed at “efficiency savings association with economies of scale” according to a report to the hospital’s joint board.

However, the report has highlighted the risk of loss of staff who may be unwilling to travel to work from Basildon and Chelmsford.

The hospitals, which have combined revenues of around £850m, originally planned to merge by this month but this is likely to now be delayed by up to a year.

Southend councillors referred the plans fearing the loss or downgrading of the borough’s award-winning stroke unit while Thurrock raised concerns about the proposed closure of Orsett Hospital.

However, James Courtenay, deputy leader of Southend Council said: “It’s a good to see the trust bringing together its back office function to make savings that can be ploughed back into front line services.

“The council has been actively involved with the STP processes and has always argued for staff to be located in Southend. I’m delighted that the trusts are placing their new merged trust staff in Southend, and we look forward to welcoming these staff to Southend."

Tom Abell, deputy chief executive of the hospital trusts, said: “We’re planning to merge next year to provide the best possible care for our population and our support staff coming together in one location, as one team, will help us to provide the best service across the three sites.

“The buildings at Britannia Park, in Southend, are being refurbished and layouts redesigned to provide space for extra support staff and improve the working environment for the HR, Finance, Procurement and Information Support teams.

“We understand that some staff may not want to travel further, so we’re working hard to find them alternative roles on sites if possible. Around 500 staff will be involved in the changes to services from across the three trusts.”