Over £1 million has been spent so far on developing a Business Case for centralising pathology services in Lancashire covering four NHS trusts, according to information released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The request for disclosure was submitted by Unite shop steward Cllr Jonathan “Jono” Grisdale, as the union remains concerned at the implication both for jobs and for potential delays and problems in the resulting service if the centralisation goes ahead.

Back in May the Lowdown reported that the plans to drive through the merger of four NHS hospital laboratories serving a population of 500,000 people in Lancashire and South Cumbria (Blackburn, Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston) into a single hub in Lancaster, were being progressed “under the radar” of the Covid pandemic.

The initial proposals, first raised in 2016, had been put on hold last year awaiting allocation of the required funding, delaying possible implementation from the original target date of 2021 to at least 2024.

Now the FoI response from the Pathology Collaboration project reveals that in addition to extensive time and effort of salaried Board members and other staff, the salaries of the operational project team totted up to £512,000 in the 30 months to September 30 2018 – and another £615,250 in the 15 months to December 2019.

However despite more than £1.1m outlay in almost 4 years, no business plan has yet been produced. The FoI response notes “There is a large number of staff either directly or indirectly involved in the project” and the project is advertising for a Finance Manager at Salary Band 8b (£53-62k): so whether this involvement has been productive or value for money remains to be seen.

The promised £31m to underwrite the costs of the centralisation will only be released after the production and approval by NHS Improvement and DHSC of a Strategic Outline Case and Business Outline Case.

Even now they are flying beneath the radar it seems the progress towards this is slow, and the project could be overtaken by the rumoured plan to establish of a new national network of 29 commercially-run pathology labs.

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