The introduction of a controversial reconfiguration of pathology services in the east of England has been delayed by a year, HSJ has learned.  

The news follows concern about the plans, which could substantially cut the number of labs in the region, being voiced by south Essex commissioners, campaigners and some pathologists.

NHS Midlands and East, which is overseeing the project, told HSJ this week the change was now likely to happen in April 2014 – a year later than its original April 2013 deadline.

The strategic health authority cluster said in a statement: “In the bid process, April 2013 was anticipated as the original service commencement date.

“However, due to delays through the bid and approvals process it became apparent that this date would not be achieved.”

It said it now aimed for the new arrangements to take effect on 1 April 2014.

The project represents the first attempt to consolidate pathology services as recommended in Lord Carter’s national review of pathology services in 2008.

The SHA said detailed modelling by the Carter team indicated savings of between £21m-£29m were available by restructuring services in the east of England.

It announced in December that out of five “bidding organisations”, which were made up of all 17 hospital trusts in the region, four had been successful.  

The unsuccessful bid was from Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust and Southend University Hospital Foundation Trust.

Commissioners in the region served by those trusts have raised concerns about the plans. A paper discussed at NHS South Essex primary care trust cluster’s January board meeting described the project as “high risk”.

The paper raised concerns about the logistic arrangements for transporting samples over a long distance; the potential impact on patient care; the effect on the viability of other local services and expertise; delays on reporting samples; and concern about private sector involvement.

One well regarded pathologist who has been following the proposals told HSJ: “There has not been enough input from pathologists to the review. The pressures on the system are unreasonable and it could be that, in the end, it will become unsafe and destabalise the whole health economy.”    

NHS Midlands and East director of customer services for strategic projects Andrew MacPherson rejected the concerns and said they were “mischief making”.

“It is a significant challenge but we are confident the model will work,” he told HSJ.