ESSEX hospital chiefs could merge departments to maintain care in the face of tough budget cuts.

Southend Hospital boss Jacqueline Totterdell wants to ensure NHS cash is spent where it is needed most.

Mrs Totterdell also said Southend would receive a share of extra Government cash to help cope with more patients this winter.

She said: “I think the next two to three years are going to be tough financially – very tough. I know the quality and performance at Southend Hospital has got better, but I do have worries about the money.

“If you’re taking £20million to £30million out of the NHS, there’s a point at which you say how much more efficiency can you do?’ “We’re really looking at how we work, improving systems and processes.

“We can’t cut quality at the front door, so we have to cut some of the back office stuff, work differently, or join with other hospitals so we could merge some functions – like a payroll system across the whole of Essex.

“Those are the things we’re talking about in Essex. We’re also looking at how we can procure goods together.

"It’s relatively early, but I think there’s a willingness among hospital chief executives to share money.”

Hospital bosses at Southend expressed concern last month at missing out on a slice of £650million in extra winter funding, which went to many hospitals to help them cope with winter crises – including £2.5million which went to Basildon Hopital.

But Mrs Totterdell said: “Another £150million has just been released for those that didn’t get any last time, and we will have a share of that to help us get through this winter.”