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Think tank urges hospital mergers

Twenty hospitals need to be merged or taken over to improve the quality of care for patients, the head of a leading health think tank has said.

Financial pressures on the NHS are growing, which are affecting the clinical sustainability of several hospitals, according to Professor Chris Ham from the King's Fund.

The chief executive of the influential think tank told the Observer: "The challenge of improving care by changing the locations from which services are provided is not new.

"What is different today is the financial pressures facing the NHS and the prospect that funding in England will not increase above the rate of inflation for at least four years.

"Several hospitals have large deficits and it is clear that existing services cannot be sustained either clinically or financially.

"Financial pressures are increasing by the day and will adversely affect quality unless ministers recognise the urgent need to change the way services are provided."

Prof Ham's comments come just days after the Government unveiled big changes to its controversial reform plans for the NHS after accepting the key recommendations of a panel of health experts.

In what critics labelled a U-turn, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's proposals to extend competition in health provision were significantly scaled back after the coalition took an unprecedented "pause" in its legislation prompted by unease among health professionals and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Prime Minister David Cameron said "we have listened, we have learned and we are improving our plans".

But Labour accused the Government of wasting billions of pounds by pressing ahead with an unnecessary reorganisation at a time when waiting lists are rising, with former health secretary Alan Milburn branding the watered down reforms the "biggest car crash" in the service's history.

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