A university site has again been named as the preferred location for a consolidated pathology service for Lancashire following a second evaluation exercise, HSJ has learned.

As previously reported, the controversial plans would see more than two-thirds of the county’s “cold” pathology activity centralised at a new hub at Lancaster University, about three miles from Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

The site had already been recommended in a previous evaluation, but the full involvement East Lancashire Hospitals Trust was not factored in when this was carried out.

Documents seen by HSJ suggest the trust was subsequently “put in” the collaboration by NHS Improvement, which meant the site evaluation had to be carried out again.

The other trusts involved in the collaboration are Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, Blackpool Teaching Hospital FT and University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay FT.

In a briefing to all the staff involved this week, seen by HSJ, the project leaders said the Lancaster University site had again been identified as the preferred location.

The document said: “The pathology collaboration management group assessed the shortlisted potential locations for a ‘cold’ hub against the evaluation criteria previously ranked by staff. This process was facilitated by an external company and was observed by a staff representative from each trust.

“The results of this exercise have now been analysed by the external company and the analysis of the scores demonstrates that land on the University of Lancaster site was identified as the preferred location.

“All four trusts scored this location highly; three scoring it as their first preference and one scoring it as their second preference resulting in this option scoring 10 per cent higher than the second place option.”

A subsequent meeting found the university site remained the top scoring option after a financial appraisal, and will therefore be recommended to the project board on 19 October. If confirmed by the board it would be included in an outline business case, which would then require approval from the four trust boards.

More than £30m of funding has already been earmarked for the project by NHS England, subject to business case approvals.

HSJ understands that a number of staff are concerned about the way the evaluation process and scoring was carried out, and discussions are now taking place within the union branches.

For more on this, see the next edition of HSJ’s North by Northwest newsletter on 23 October.