A MERGER of Greenwich and Lewisham's health trusts has been approved today (September 26) by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The new Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust launches on October 1, but health chiefs stress it does not mean any of the proposed downgrades to Lewisham Hospital will be enacted. That is still the subject of a Court of Appeal hearing next month.

Trust chief executive Tim Higginson and chairwoman Elizabeth Butler said in a statement: "Many local people have asked us if the merger is still going ahead since the High Court overturned the Government’s plans for local services.

"It is important to stress that the legal challenges relate to the Government’s plans to downgrade local emergency and maternity services, rather than the merger with Queen Elizabeth Hospital

"There is a clear distinction between the two and many benefits to Lewisham Healthcare and Queen Elizabeth Hospital coming together as one organisation."

And they have also moved to calm fears that Lewisham will be saddled with the debts which led to the collapse of the old South London Healthcare Trust.

Money will also be provided to help pay for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital PFI costs, although no exact figures have yet been released.

They said: "While Lewisham Healthcare has a good record, the NHS faces challenges in the future which we will be better placed to meet as a larger organisation.  Lewisham Healthcare and Queen Elizabeth Hospital serve similar communities and we have much in common in terms of what we do. 

"The healthcare teams in Lewisham and Greenwich have many strengths and by building on these we can develop an organisation we will be proud of.  The new organisation will not be inheriting historic debts and additional financial support is being provided for Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s PFI costs.

"It is important to stress that services are not changing following the merger on 1 October.  If you receive care at Lewisham Hospital or Queen Elizabeth Hospital it will not be affected by the formation of the new trust."

The new trust website goes live on October 1 at lewishamandgreenwich.nhs.uk