Unite has uncovered plans being progressed “under the radar” in Lancashire and South Cumbria, to drive through the merger of four NHS hospital laboratories serving a population of 500,000 people (Blackburn, Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston) into a single hub in Lancaster, and fuse pathology services into  “one single hosted organisation” covering Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Unite’s regional officer Keith Hutson said: “NHS bosses are using the pandemic to reintroduce this flawed plan under the radar which will increase the times for processing samples. Our members who have given their all during this crisis feel the deliberate lack of consultation is a stab in the back.

“We are going to involve the region’s MPs in this campaign, including The Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley, as, in the long-term, we fear that any super lab could be ripe for being sold off to a profit-hungry healthcare company.

Unite’s challenge is in response to a May 6 letter to staff from the Managing Director of Lancashire and South Cumbria Pathology Collaborative, Mark Hindle, which after going through the motions of thanking staff for all their “hard work and service” goes on to focus on the “day job”:

“as we start to see hospitals trying to get back to normal service myself and colleagues are still working to develop the Outline Business Case (OBC), that the Board will use to help them determine our future direction. … we have a large capital allocation available to us to provide new buildings for our services as we move forward once the Business Case is agreed.”

It appears that the Business Case will put forward three possible models:

  • A hub and spoke model (generally referred to as hub at Lancaster and small local laboratories (ESLs) to undertake urgent and work required at the hospital sites)
  • A distributed hub where disciplines are co-located within existing estate supported by ESLs at hospital sites
  • A do minimum option

But the next paragraph makes it clear that only one option is really being proposed as the way forward: “The other main topic of conversation from the Board was how we bring our Pathology services in Lancashire and South Cumbria together into one hosted organisation in the future.”

Unite points out that merger plans for a super lab at Lancaster, covering the areas of five NHS trusts, were rejected last year – because it would make the service too remote from local GPs and hospitals, and increase processing times from the current 24-to-48 hours.


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