Staff to ballot on industrial action to halt London hospital pathology privatisation

Plans to privatise one of the country’s leading pathology services at London’s King’s College Hospital are being opposed by Unite, the largest union in the country.

Unite will be balloting its members at the south east London hospital on industrial action within the next fortnight, as it fears that privatisation will break-up a 300-strong world class department that has taken decades to build up and hit services to patients.

The hospital’s directors are proposing to set up a private sector company with the pathology services at St Thomas’ Hospital and international services company, Serco.

This new company will be taking on services worth tens of millions of pounds annually and employing nearly 1,000 staff.

Unite’s national officer for health, David Fleming said: ‘There seems to be no rhyme or reason why a world-class pathology service that carries out two million tests a year and has an excellent reputation has to be hived off to the private sector.’

It smacks of the triumph of dogma over common sense, hence the industrial action ballot.’

The aim is to have the new ‘company’ up-and-running by 1 October, but Unite, Unison and the Federation of Clinical Scientists have written to the management asking for the plans to be halted.

Unite national executive member, Frank Wood, who is a bio-medical scientist, said: ‘Pathology staff take years to train and need constant development and training to keep pace with rapid scientific changes.’

The private sector has made frequent attempts to run NHS pathology services and has failed due to its inability to retain and attract these type of staff, for example, at the Lister Hospital, Stevenage and at Ealing where various private companies have been used and have been found wanting.’

Diagnostic services of the standard based at King’s require constant reinvestment to match and anticipate the pace of clinical needs and research. To siphon off any portion of this for marketing and profit will inevitably affect the quality of patient care.’

To neglect aspects of a particular speciality because it may be, at the present, unprofitable or unmarketable is to risk damaging the ability of the organisation to be flexible and responsive to rapidly changing clinical needs.’

Note to news editors: Pathology is an international scientific service. King’s hopes to be part of a world renowned Academic Health Science Centre. Science relies upon information shared openly and constructively allowing review by other peers and an intellectual openness.

This stands at odds with the secrecy and protectionism practiced by the private sector whose involvement could drastically curtail much of the hospital-based research in leading medical schools.

Almost every UK hospital, that runs 24 hour services, includes a pathology laboratory service. When patients attend a clinic, visit their GP or have to stay in hospital their doctor makes use of the pathology service. Some 70 per cent of all clinical decision made by doctors relies upon one or more tests provided by pathology services.

Modern pathology laboratories can now include millions of pounds worth of the most advanced equipment performing on an increasingly automated basis thousands of tests each day.

Pathology staff include:

Support grades carrying out intensive and taxing duties requiring concentration and attention. They are often low paid, but are responsible for ensuring the delivery of essential work.

Biomedical scientists, who are qualified to degree standard and beyond, carrying out specialist and often unique procedures demanding a thorough understanding of their work and highly developed manual skills.

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