Plans have been revealed to merge the hospital trust which shut Weston Hospital’s A&E overnight because of staff shortages with a neighbouring trust.

Weston General Hospital A&E has been closed between 10pm and 8am since July last year.

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (UHBT) and Weston Area Health NHS Trust (WAHT) said a merger could take place in spring 2019.

MP John Penrose said it was a “big step” towards solving the closure.

The potential merger builds on a formal partnership between the two trusts, implemented in May 2017.

Robert Woolley, chief executive of UHBT, told “Our shared goal remains to ensure hospital-based services in Bristol and North Somerset provide high-quality care to patients and families which are clinically and financially sustainable. We believe that a merger with Weston Area Health NHS Trust could help achieve this goal.”

James Rimmer, chief executive of WAHT, added: “We believe we could make more rapid progress and improve our long-term sustainability by formally merging with UHBT.”

Weston General Hospital serves more than 200,000 people, including many people in the Burnham-On-Sea area, and has been closed overnight since July 2017 because it could not guarantee safe levels of staffing overnight.

People with serious and life-threatening emergencies in Weston were told to dial 999 and ambulances would take them to Bristol or Taunton.

The Save Weston A&E campaign group has organised protests outside the hospital, claiming the closure is putting lives at risk.

Burnham-On-sea’s MP James Heappey told “I very much welcome the announcement today of the intention for the Weston Area Health Trust and the University Hospitals Bristol to merge.”

“The challenge in Weston for many years has been that the WAHT has lacked the size to attract staff and to deliver some services. This merger therefore represents a great opportunity to secure the future of Weston Hospital and I hope that the work that will now be undertaken by the trusts leads to a merger. I’m confident that that will be the best outcome for my constituents.”

And Weston-super-Mare MP John Penrose hailed the move as way of “making hiring staff for Weston Hospital far, far easier”.

“It’s a big step towards solving the overnight closure of Weston’s A&E department, and securing the long-term future of our hospital.”

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