KGH and NGH have announced plans to merge their managers and appoint a top boss to oversee both hospitals.
The hospitals released a joint statement to announce the news - which they say will 'strengthen health services in Northamptonshire.'
Bosses were keen to stress that the organisations themselves would not be merged, but that the appointment of a group chief executive officer would enable the hospitals to work more closely together.
Each hospital would keep its own A&E, maternity and paediatric services but there are plans to 'consolidate' some services - initially including cardiac and breast cancer departments. The new model would not have any effect on the advanced plans for the Kettering Hospital Urgent Care Hub.
In time it is also planned that there would be group directors for finance, strategy and HR. Each hospital would keep key some senior managers including medical and nursing directors. A group board will be set up that will appoint joint clinicians.
It will mean that the existing CEO role for both hospitals will be merged. An appointment is expected be made in April.
Kettering and Northampton General Hospitals already have a joint chairman, Alan Burns, who has been in post for a year. The new CEO will report to Mr Burns who said that the boards of both hospitals had been meeting during the 'past year or two' to talk about the plan.
Mr Burns told the Northants Telegraph and The Chron: "Northamptonshire’s health and social care services face some very significant challenges and so do both acute hospitals."
He said that one of the main issues is finding staff. Both hospitals have challenging vacancy rates.
"Our difficulties are no different from those across the NHS - there are a lot of financial challenges and not enough beds. But what's different here in Northamptonshire is the opportunity.
"The government, for the first time, in quite a lot of years, is talking about collaboration not competition.
"These two trusts have competed with one another for quite a long time.
"We're now talking about collaboration."
“We need to ensure that both Kettering and Northampton General Hospitals are clinically and financially sustainable and are able to meet the rising demands created by population growth. Working together as acute Trusts, and with our other partners, is the way to do this.
"All of our clinical staff and partners are saying this is the right thing to do. The county council, the trades unions, the CCGs agree. We've also got a new CCG for the whole county with a new chair, our unitary authorities are forming, with whatever that might mean for social care. Primary care networks are forming so we've got a lot of new partners who want to develop this collaboration.
"It makes sense. We are optimistic."
KGH ended its last financial year £28.9m in the red. NGH had a deficit of £14.4m.
Mr Burns added: "We are not going this for money. We are doing this because we genuinely believe this will make things better.
"We haven't done some great big accountancy exercise, we have listened to clinical staff and our two chief executives and we think this is the right thing to do to make things better."
He said that the new regime would not include an expensive extra layer of senior management, and that the current CEOs of both hospital knew that their jobs would be replaced by one role.
"We're not having three chief executives," he said.
"The know it puts them at risk. They can choose to apply if they wish."
He added that there would be much better training opportunities to help attract top-notch doctors and nurses to the county, which has previously proved to be an issue He said that the first services being looked at for group management are cardiology and breast cancer services.
"We'll come together to provide county-wide services with some things being done in Northampton and some in Kettering," he said.
"If we start to provide a county-wide cardiology service in Northamptonshire then that will be bigger than the equivalent one in Oxford so then we're starting to get the chance to attract experts to our county."
.Kettering General Hospital Chief Executive, Simon Weldon, said: “We are committed to having two hospitals with key facilities such as A&E, paediatrics and maternity services in
both Northampton and Kettering.
“The rising demand for care means we definitely need to have two acute hospitals serving the north and south of the county. But to serve our local populations well in the future we have to rise to the very real challenges we face – and we believe that the best way to do that is to work together.”
Northampton General Hospital Chief Executive Dr Sonia Swart, said: “We have been speaking to clinicians at both sites for some time to look at how services could be better provided together and they agree there are ways we could do this.
“For example if we were, in some way, to consolidate our cardiac services we would potentially be as large as some regional centres. This work was discussed recently at a clinical conference held with colleagues, whereby it was recognised an increased level of service could be offered to patients in the county by collaborating.
“In addition it was clear that collaboration would make Northamptonshire a very attractive place to work, ensuring good career progression opportunities, and a chance for the two trusts to invest in the very best facilities to serve local people’s needs.
“We have had shared services across the two hospitals for some years and been successful in consolidating and developing some of these services in a way that benefits patients who have had a stroke or a vascular emergency or who need specialist cancer care.
“We know, however, that we could and should develop more county wide services if we are to rise to the challenge of providing the best that modern healthcare can offer.”
It is also expected that the group model could lead to opportunities to share expertise and develop new approaches to team working in support services such as IT, estates, corporate governance, and human resources.
Interim chief people officer Mark Smith said: “We have some fantastic, enthusiastic and innovative teams providing care and supporting the care provision within both Trusts.
“But the two hospitals have different IT systems, different policies and processes, identity badges, car parking arrangements and different ways of working which can cause frustration
and delays for patients and colleagues.
“We want to work with those teams to look at how we can work together, pool resources, simplify systems, avoid costly duplication and make the best of our teams.
“It is about investing in strengthening and reorganising the way we manage our resources for our mutual benefit.
“For example between us we also have large estates with a mixture of great facilities and ones that need urgent modernisation and improvement.”
A project group will be formed to develop the group management model and joint clinical appointments will be made during spring. The two trust boards will continue to operate as they do now.