Two hospital trusts in the East of England have moved a step closer to integrating clinical services.
The NHS trust boards of Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals have voted to develop plans for a single combined organisation to care for patients.
The two hospitals already have a joint chief executive, Nick Hulme, and will decide on a full merger next year.
Mr Hulme said: "We now have the challenge of setting out how we will create a new trust."
In the coming months, the trusts say they will be asking the public, patients, staff and stakeholders to help define how they can improve services.
Mr Hulme said it was a "landmark opportunity" to create the future for healthcare in the area.
A final decision to form a single organisation, which would also require approval from health regulators, is expected to be made in June 2018.
The union Unison has been asked to comment on the plans.