• Viapath has pathology contract extended at Bedford Hospital Trust
  • Move comes after doubts raised over Bedford’s merger with neighbouring trust
  • Viapath’s core contracts in London have been retendered

A trust has extended its pathology contract with a public-private partnership as doubts have emerged over a planned merger with a neighbour.

Bedford Hospital Trust has extended its pathology contract with Viapath, a group of companies owned by Serco and two London hospital trusts, to March 2020.

The contract had been due to end in November this year. Companies House documents published last week revealed the extension.

The company’s annual accounts said: “Following [the] trust’s announcement in 2017 that it planned to merge with Luton and Dunstable University Hospitals Foundation Trust notice was given of the intention to move both services under the management of a new combined trust.”

In February, HSJ reported the merger was in doubt after the trusts failed to secure capital funding.

Viapath was created in 2009 and its main clients are also its co-owners – King’s College Hospital FT and Guy’s and St Thomas’ FT.

It has a turnover of £122m. But, in August last year, a consortium of south east London trusts, including its owners, decided the area’s pathology services contract would be retendered. The new contract will run for 15 years with an option to extend for a further five.

Viapath chair and former Monitor executive chair David Bennett said in the document: “Winning this [south east London] tender is, of course, central to Viapath’s future although we will also continue to pursue other initiatives.”

In the company’s strategic report, it said: “Viapath is planning to be successful in securing the new contracts, and it is expected that this would result in the refinancing of the business to support the service transformation that the contract award is expected to include.”

In February, HSJ reported two other companies were understood to be bidding for the south London work – German firm Synlab and Health Services Laboratories, a joint venture between the Royal Free London FT, University College London Hospitals FT, and Australian firm The Doctors Laboratory.

According to the South East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, “arrangements have been put in place in the [tender] programme structure” to ensure there is no conflict of interest with Viapath during the evaluation and approval process.

Viapath board members are excluded from membership of the South East London pathology programme board.

A Bedford Hospital Trust spokeswoman said: “The trust has enjoyed a good working relationship with Viapath over the past 10 years with pathology services always provided to a high standard.

“This extension will allow further focus on the collaborative approach with the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital. The first step of plans are underway to enable us to create a top class integrated pathology service with the L&D, which is also in line with the NHS Improvement national strategy to create regional pathology networks across England.”