Published: 19/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5823 Page 20

I am writing in the hope of correcting some very misleading comments in the article 'A bug in the system' (news focus, 15 August).

No-one enjoys change, especially when it comes from up high and occurs with alarming frequency. Many of us in the infection specialties have grown up with and deeply appreciated the public health laboratory service. But times have changed, and the NHS no longer has a primitive infection service.

In the period before the Second World War, when the predecessor to PHLS (the Emergency Laboratory Service) was created, pathology was a university teaching hospital specialty. Laboratories did not exist outside the major centres of learning.

Your correspondent quotes a senior PHLS source as saying: 'Current standards for laboratory services in the NHS are not good enough.' This is deeply insulting and untrue.

Health service laboratories undergo the same accreditation processes that PHLS laboratories do, and staff are trained within the same system and to the same standards. In the area of public health epidemiology, the NHS contributes more data than PHLS did.

So was PHLS all good? What is perhaps seen by senior PHLS management as a good thing, its managed network, was often perceived as being its weakness by those within and without the service. Many of the users of the service found its management style was its greatest weakness. It never fully saw itself as part of the NHS, its consultation processes were perfunctory and superficial and it was perceived as aligning itself with the Treasury and not the patient.

There are many examples of its failure to integrate with NHS microbiology services. When it created standard operating procedures, it tried to charge the NHS for their use. Its management style was hierarchical and an example of how not to create 'networks'.

There are many, if not all, employees of PHLS whose contribution and dedication has been of the finest quality, but now we need a service where the needs of the population and patient comes first and last.

Michael Kelsey President of the Association of Medical Microbiologists Whittington Hospital