• New “integrated pathology service” sought in south east London, Surrey and Sussex
  • Contract worth £2.2bn over 20 years
  • Comes amid national drive to reconfigure pathology provision
  • STP says arrangements are in place to avoid potential conflict of interest  

An NHS pathology contract worth more than £2bn has been put on the market with the aim of linking eight trusts’ laboratory services.

Bidders will compete to provide the full range of pathology disciplines for the trusts, whose locations range from south east London to the Sussex coast. The procurement could lead to the formation of one of the larger pathology networks in the NHS.  

However, one trust in the region is not part of the procurement because it is considering a solution that keeps its pathology provision within the NHS.

It comes a year after NHS Improvement told all acute trusts to form pathology networks in a bid to release £200m of savings by 2021.

The procurement for the £2.2bn contract is being run by the South East London pathology programme board.

The trusts involved are:

  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust; 
  • King’s College Hospital FT;
  • East Sussex Healthcare Trust;
  • Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust;
  • Oxleas FT;
  • South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust;
  • South London and Maudsley FT; and
  • Royal Brompton and Harefield FT.

Also included in the tender is the South East London Commissioning Alliance, which comprises Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham, and Southwark clinical commissioning groups.

The contract will replace the service provided to GSTT and King’s College Hospital FT until September 2020 by Viapath, which is a joint venture owned by the two trusts and Serco.

In its proposals last year, NHSI placed GSTT and King’s with Lewisham and Greenwich Trust in a network named London 4, claiming it would lead to savings worth £3.8m.

However, Lewisham and Greenwich Trust has opted against joining the procurement.

The organisation is exploring options to keep its pathology service within the NHS – thus avoiding the need for a commercial partner, according to a trust spokesman.

The trust’s board will make a final decision on its position this month, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, HSJ revealed in July that East Sussex Healthcare Trust and Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust had not agreed with NHSI’s proposals after being placed in other networks, but both trusts confirmed to HSJ this week that they want to join London 4.

NHSI did not respond when HSJ asked if the regulator had agreed with the two trusts’ decision.

The winning bidder will be able to enter into pathology contracts with the participating trusts, should the trusts wish to do so.

According to the South East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, the procurement’s aim is to deliver efficiencies through an “integrated pathology service”.

A spokesman for the STP said the contract’s specification supported NHSI’s proposed “hub and spoke” model, in which one lead provider processes complex and high volume tests while the other trusts only process tests essential to the operation of their hospitals.

The STP spokesman said “arrangements have been put in place in the programme structure” to ensure there is no conflict of interest with Viapath during the tender evaluation and approval process.

Members of the Viapath board are excluded from membership of the South East London pathology programme board, he said. 

“Should Viapath choose to bid for services, they would be given equal weight to any other potential provider in the procurement process,” the spokesman added.

The contract will be awarded in September 2019, and a transition will follow to ensure the new service is in place by September 2020.

The South East London Pathology Programme Board comprises: GSTT, King’s College Hospital FT, Lewisham and Greenwich Trust, Oxleas FT, and South London and Maudsley FT. It also includes representation from the aforementioned CCGs.