Hinchingbrooke Hospital’s board has today (Thursday) agreed to approve plans to merge with the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (PSHFT).

And in what seemed to be a shift in approach, board members referred to the proposal as a legal acquisition (of Hinchingbrooke by PSHFT) during a meeting which saw high emotional and fierce public debate.

Board chairman Alan Burns was keen to point out, however, that despite the legal terminology, it was "a merger of equals, as Hinchingbrooke is not entering into this with less to offer".

In an emotional exchange, clinical director, Melanie Clements, aired her concerns for the wellbeing of staff.

"I feel the pain of staff," she told the board." She also warned her fellow board members "not to underestimate the cultural issues that were likely to arise as the result of move.

"We must support people on this difficult journey," she added.

The meeting was told the transitional costs of the acquisition would be £13.4 million against savings of £9.1 million.

Mr Burns told the board the financial case did not hold up on its own but there were, in fact, strong clinical benefits.

"If we had to consider this purely on the finances we probably wouldn't do it, but at the end of this acquisition, most of the people attending Hinchingbrooke will have access to most of the things they need."

"We can't stay the way we are otherwise Hinchingbrooke will suffer a slow death. This is the best opportunity to secure the hospital's future."

Mr Burns ended the meeting by acknowledging there was still work to be done, and said: "this board approves the resolution [to approve the Full Business Case] but accepts there is more work to be done and we will now begin a six-week period of consultation with staff and the public."

Both hospitals boards are expected to ratify the decision in November and the FBC will then be submitted to NHS Improvement.

After the meeting, Hands Off Hinchingbrooke campaigner, Daniel Laycock, said: "Both boards have prepared an ill-thought plan, this takeover will endeavour to downgrade or close services and even quite possibly close the hospital all together.

"We are calling for Huntingdonshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council to start a Judicial Review into the takeover of Hinchingbrooke Healthcare NHS Trust by Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

"We are urging resident's from Huntingdonshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire to stand against the takeover so that services across all three sites are not downgraded or lost entirely and campaign with us on the street."