The Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, has given his approval to the UK’s first Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC). The green light came after an extensive public consultation on the proposed AHSC, which will involve integrating Imperial College London with two local hospitals.

As a first step, Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust and St Mary’s Hospital NHS Trust will now merge on 1 October and integrate with Imperial College to form Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. This will provide the foundation for the AHSC, which will combine clinical services, teaching and research.

The independent Appointments Commission has named Lord Tugendhat as the first chairman of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which will be the largest NHS Trust in the UK. Lord Tugendhat, whose career has encompassed the chairmanship of FTSE100 companies as well as public service as a Conservative MP and working Peer, is currently a senior advisor on Lehman Brothers’ European Advisory Board.

"Major advance"

“The creation of the AHSC is a major advance for patient care, clinical teaching, and scientific invention and innovation,” he said. “The fusion of the different strands of our work and the achievements that we can now expect will lead to significant benefits for patients and greater advances in healthcare than those we could have delivered apart.”

A transitional executive team, comprising the existing executives of the merging trusts, has been set up to take Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust forward from 1 October. A permanent executive should be appointed during the next six months through open recruitment.

Imperial College is also expected to sponsor an application for the AHSC to become an Academic Foundation Trust (ie. an ‘independent public benefit corporation’ free from central government control) in 2008. This would be subject to a separate consultation.