There is strong public and staff support for setting up the UK’s first Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) through the integration of Imperial College London with two local hospitals, a public consultation has found.

In the consultation that closed on 31 July, three quarters of the respondents thought the planned consolidation was a good idea, said the prospective partners – Imperial College, Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust and St Mary’s NHS Trust. Many of these respondents believe the proposed AHSC would lead to better health services, better use of resources and the development of new and innovative solutions to modern medical challenges, the partners added.

The plan is that the two hospitals should merge into a single NHS Trust and join with Imperial College’s Faculty of Medicine to form the Academic Health Science Centre as a healthcare organisation integrating the delivery of clinical services, teaching and research. A submission will now be made to the Secretary of State for Health, who is likely to make a decision next month.

Lord Darzi of Denham, the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health who holds the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College and is an honorary consultant at St Mary’s, called for the creation of the AHSC as part of his recent review of health services in London, the partners noted. The ASHC model was also endorsed last year in Sir David Cooksey’s review of the design and institutional arrangements for publicly funded health research in the UK.

If the proposals are approved by the Secretary of State, the new, consolidated trust will be set up on 1 October as the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. The boards of St Mary’s and Hammersmith NHS Trusts will continue to be responsible for the management of their respective trusts until the merger is implemented.

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

The AHSC partners were designated as one of the UK’s 11 new Biomedical Research Centres in December 2006. Last April it was announced that one of two Research Centres for NHS Patient Safety and Service Quality in the UK would be based in Imperial College’s Biosurgery and Surgical Technology section at St Mary’s Hospital.