Patients and activists have voiced their “concern” at proposals for the relocation of some pathology laboratories from Homerton Hospital to Barts, fearing they could result in delays or errors in treatment.
It is not yet known which services in the labs, which aid medical diagnoses by analysing bodily fluids such as blood and urine, would be moved, though it has been confirmed that so-called ‘hot’ urgent services, such as A&E and urgent blood tests, will still be carried out inhouse.
Councillors and Labour activists have now launched a campaign, ‘Hands Off Our Path Labs’, calling ofor a reversal of the plans amidst fears that the move could affect treatment for newborn babies across north-east London, as well as the Homerton’s admission rates.
Cllr Feryal Demirci (Lab, Hoxton East & Shoreditch), deputy mayor and cabinet member for health and social care, said: “I have grave concerns about the impact the proposals will have on the health of our residents.
“I call on NHS England to reconsider their proposals and work with the council to develop pathology facilities in Homerton to safeguard the future of our health services.”
A Hackney Labour spokesperson added: “There is a real risk of our path lab being privatised and this is already occurring in other parts of the country.
“If we don’t fight now, we stand to lose even more of what is our public service, as is being evidenced elsewhere in London and the UK.”
The Homerton said the idea behind moving the services into a collaborative hub at Barts is motivated by keeping them as local as possible, and within the NHS.
Plans for a new wing at the hospital containing its pathology services, announced in 2014, fell through after the construction firm went out of business.
The move is part of a national drive towards a “hub-and-spoke” approach in pathology services, but according to a report by the Royal College of Pathologists (RCP), regionalisation of services can undermine the quality of pathology.
In a response to a 2015 independent report on the subject by Lord Carter, the RCP warned that pathology tests are an integral part of most patients’ journeys through hospitals and “cannot be considered in isolation”.
Healthwatch Hackney executive director Jon Williams said : “Patients tell us they are very concerned about the loss of a full pathology service at the Homerton Hospital.
“Many fear sending vital blood and other tests to Barts will lead to dangerous delays and errors in treatments. They also think it will lead to an overall reduction in the ability of Homerton doctors to deliver timely and effective treatments.
“Patients who rely heavily on rapid test turnarounds, such as patients with sickle cell, are particularly worried as they need frequent and accurate testing as part of their treatment.”
Williams added that the Homerton Hospital has previously highlighted delays with their histopathology cancer tests processed for it by Barts, and called for a full NHS-run pathology service to be kept inhouse.
A spokesperson for Hackney’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) said: “We’re still waiting on the specific details of the proposed changes to pathology services.
“We do know certain key pathology services, such as A&E and urgent blood tests, will still be provided at the Homerton and many others can be carried out off-site with no notable difference to the patient’s experience.
“The priority is maintaining excellent services across the board regardless of where the actual analysis takes place.
“The CCG is fully committed to supporting the Homerton to provide high quality and sustainable services for the people of Hackney.
“However, we do, alongside local GPs, of course want clarity and reassurance that any impact on patients will be minimal to their day-to-day lives, with the changes and the rationale behind them explained clearly.”
A spokesperson for Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust said: “The Trust has been reviewing the future of its pathology services for some time.
“Following high level discussions, Homerton has now decided to explore the feasibility of a collaborative arrangement with Barts Health NHS Trust to look at how the trusts can work together to provide a full range of pathology services in the future.
“This is in line with the collaborative work around pathology services between NHS Trusts which is going on throughout the NHS in England. A joint project board and steering group has been set up between the two Trusts and a project director will begin work at the beginning of April.
“We are clear that any solution to providing pathology services in the future has to support the efficient and effective running of our acute services, in particular our accident and emergency department and other specialist areas. Some ‘hot’ testing services will always be required on site for these essential services.
“The collaboration project to explore options with Barts will continue over the next few months and we will ensure that our pathology staff are kept informed on progress.”
Hackney Labour’s petition on the subject can be found here.