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The NHS option

It’s interesting how different local politics – sometimes in places only a few miles away – can affect decisions about something as scientific as running a laboratory.

Lewisham and Greenwich Trust’s board is moving towards running its pathology services in partnership with Barts Health Trust.

Its board papers refer to this as the “NHS option”, as opposed to the idea proposed by NHS Improvement – that the trust combine with the rest of south east London for pathology services.

The latter would not be an “NHS option” (or at least not a fully NHS option) because the pathology labs at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital are run by Viapath, which is part owned by Serco.

Why is this a problem for L&G and not the other trusts in south east London?

The answer could be that, when Lansley and Hunt moved to axe Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency department, the response was very spirited local demonstrations. Those fighting for the department won, and were energised and politicised in the process.

Although this was more than five years ago, feeling about downgrades and private involvement remains strong in Lewisham (known as “The People’s Borough” even back in the 1980s), so a Serco-involved option is less likely to fly there.

Which is odd because the place is really not that different to neighbouring Southwark or Lambeth.

Although laboratories are scientific, tendering processes are less so.

The South East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership is tendering a 15-year contract for pathology on the patch (excluding L&G) for which Viapath, the equivalent outfit in north London, and a German firm are all competing.