• Non-urgent tests could be carried out in one, two or three hubs
  • Decision on whether to outsource expected this summer
  • But union says it will oppose “misguided” reorganisation 

Pathology services in Kent and Medway could be delivered with a private sector partner or outsourced under options being considered by the area’s four acute trusts.

Less urgent pathology services could also be concentrated in just one or two hubs, although each acute hospital without a hub would keep an essential services laboratory.

Unite – which represents a number of pathology staff in the county – has called the potential reorganisation “misguided”. The trade union has warned it will campaign against any option which leads to outsourcing or the reduction of terms and conditions.

Unite regional officer Kathy Walters said: “NHS Improvement has said that the changes nationally to pathology services should absolutely not be about saving money, but should be about quality and patient safety.

“Our biomedical scientist members, many of whom are registered with their professional body, the Health and Care Professions Council, have a professional duty to raise concerns about patient safety – and will do so, if the need arises.”

A decision from the four trusts on whether to go for one, two or three hubs is expected by the end of February. A subsequent decision on whether the trusts would run the £75m a year service themselves, look for a private partner or choose to outsource would then be made in the summer.

A single organisation to deliver pathology services could potentially be created by the end of the year. However, a paper presented to the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust board suggested it could take several years and cost at least £10m in capital to set up hubs.

The report insisted lessons will be learned from recent previous attempts to reconfigure pathology services in the county. A planned Kent pathology partnership was abandoned, amid tensions between partners, and changes which saw some pathology services moved from Medway to Dartford last year causing tests to be redone

As well as the complexities of all four trusts reaching a decision, the report highlighted the logistical challenges – particularly traffic on Kent’s roads – and retaining and attracting the right workforce. But it said standardising approaches across the existing laboratories alone would not be enough to deliver the operational and financial sustainability needed.

 Miles Scott, chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and chair of the Kent and Medway Pathology Programme steering group, said: “The four hospital trust boards are in the process of considering the strategic outline case and once this has been approved, the next stage of the process – to develop the outline business case – will begin.

“Each step of the way this project is being clinically led. The four hospital trusts in the county have agreed to work together to create an integrated pathology service fit for the 21st century. This will include investments in technology and staff development, creating a service where people wish to come to learn, work and carry out research.

 “We understand the concerns raised by Unite and are committed to working with our staff and their representatives in taking this work forward. No decision has yet been made about any of the potential options. Any decision will be based on the fundamental principles of quality, sustainability and patient safety”.