Plans for a new network of pathology services for London have been approved this week in a full business case, partnering up the Homerton Hospital with Barts Health and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trusts.
The East & South East London Pathology Partnership seeks to consolidate all pathology services, which offer tests to aid in diagnosis of disease or injury, into one centralised ‘hub-and-spoke’ service at Barts.
The scheme had been the focus of a campaign by Hackney Labour last year, who warned at the time that the plans could result in some services being privatised, in a hit to turnaround times for vital tests at the hospital, and could see job losses.
The Homerton has stressed that, far from being a step towards privatisation, the partnership between the three organisations is designed to keep the services within the NHS, while pointing to reassurances from Barts that an expansion of a central laboratory at the Royal London giving the hospital “confidence” that clinicians’ needs will be met.
The plans will also see a “revamp” of essential services pathology at the Homerton, which had hoped to build a new three-storey pathology facility of its own back in 2014, but was thwarted when builders Longcross Construction Ltd went into administration in June 2016.
Cllr Chris Kennedy, who leads on health at Hackney Council, said: “I welcome the confirmation of resources to develop new laboratory facilities on the Homerton site.
“I still have two major concerns. Will the new arrangements result in any job losses in the future at Homerton?
“And will the new arrangements result in slower turnaround times on some types of tests for Homerton patients?”
It is understood the trusts are now set to sign a partnership agreement, with all laboratory staff to have their employment transferred over to become Barts employees.
All services will continue as they are until at least spring of next year, according ot the Homerton, with a new phase of work to see the upgrading of IT systems, recruitment, and transfer of supplier contracts to Barts.
A spokesperson for the Homerton said: “We have been talking to our consultants where concerns have been raised about the speed at which tests will be turned around by Barts, who have said that they are expanding their central laboratory set-up at the Royal London Hospital.
“This gives us a lot of confidence that the needs of our clinicians in Hackney are going to be met. There have been concerns voiced in the past. The service is not substantially changing, as there will be no change to the way patients receive or find out about tests.
“There should be no issues around delays, and we are continuing to discuss this with our own consultants who have been asking us the same sort of questions.
“Redundancies will be avoided as far as they can be. These things are being looked at all the time by the managers who run the service on a day-to-day basis.”
The partnership once up and running will manage path labs across seven hospitals including its hub at the Royal London, the Homerton, Whipps Cross Hospital, Newham University Hospital, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, and University Hospital Lewisham.
The Homerton will keep an essential services lab, which will include biochemistry, haematology, blood transfusion and microbiology services which will address its urgent needs, according to the hospital.
The partnership also hopes that other benefits will accrue as a result of its creation, including better quality services through investment in the new lab infrastructure and equipment, with the plans expected to show £51m of savings which will be shared amongst the organisations.
According to the Homerton, the alternative to such an arrangement would have forced the hospital to look at outsourcing options, a particularly sensitive issue due to the well-publicised campaign around the cleaning and facilities management services provided to the hospital by private company ISS.
A spokesperson added: “There are key pressure points where we must have laboratory facilities onsite if we are going to retain our ability to run as a hospital in these key areas.
“There have been red flags raised in the past saying that losing this could be the thin end of the wedge, a domino theory saying that if one thing goes another thing goes, but in terms of developing services and retaining services in the Trust, this essential services lab is a key plank of our negotiations with the other two Trusts.”
Tracey Fletcher, chief executive of the Homerton, said: “We are pleased to have approved the business case for this important NHS partnership which will manage pathology services for hospitals in both east and south east London.
“We will also see the development, at Homerton, of new laboratory facilities in the shape of an Essential Services Laboratory to ensure we can provide fast turnaround testing services for our A&E and other key acute services.
“We will now be supporting the setting up of this partnership over the next
In response to Cllr Kennedy’s concerns, the Homerton spokesperson said: “Our work with Barts Health & LGT on the planning for the new partnership and expansion of specimen reception facilities at the Royal London hub site makes us confident that we shall have no delays with test results and patients will be none the wiser about where their tests are going.
“There will be stipulated and agreed test turnaround times that will be in place prior to any service move and they will be closely monitored as a key performance indicator.
“The full business case states that redundancies will be avoided as much as possible. Managers from the three Trusts have been working together to manage any vacancies that arise, looking for opportunities for current staff to be used flexibly to fill vacant posts and for essential vacancies to be covered by fixed term contract posts. This management of staff vacancies should avoid any potential job losses as the new organisation takes shape.”
Update: this article was amended at 11:30 on Wednesday 5 August to include additional comment from a Homerton Hospital spokesperson