Plans to centralise Homerton pathology tests approved

The Homerton Hospital. Picture: Archant

The Homerton Hospital. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Plans for a new network of pathology services for London have been approved this week, partnering up the Homerton Hospital with Barts Health and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trusts (LGT).

The East and South East London Pathology Partnership seeks to consolidate all pathology services, which offer tests to aid diagnosis, into one centralised ‘hub-and-spoke’ service at Barts.

The scheme had been the focus of a campaign by Hackney Labour, who warned at the time that the plans could result in privatisation, job losses and a hit to turnaround times for vital tests.

READ MORE: ‘Homerton’s A&E could go if path lab gets outsourced’The Homerton has stressed that, far from being a step towards privatisation, the partnership between the three organisations is designed to keep the services within the NHS.

It pointed to reassurances from Barts that an expansion of a central laboratory at the Royal London has given the hospital “confidence” that clinicians’ needs will be met.

The plans will also see a “revamp” of essential services pathology at the Homerton, which had seen its own proposals to build a new three-storey pathology facility in 2014 thwarted when builders Longcross Construction went into administration in June 2016.

Cllr Chris Kennedy, health lead at Hackney Council, said: “I still have two major concerns. Will the new arrangements result in any job losses in the future at Homerton?

“And will the new arrangements result in slower turnaround times on some types of tests for Homerton patients?”

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It is understood all laboratory staff will have their employment transferred over to Barts.

All services will continue as they are until at least spring of next year, according to the Homerton, with a new phase of work to see the upgrading of IT systems, recruitment and the transfer of supplier contracts to Barts.

A spokesperson for the Homerton said: “The service is not substantially changing, as there will be no change to the way patients receive or find out about tests.

“There should be no issues around delays, and we are continuing to discuss this with our own consultants who have been asking us the same sort of questions.

“Redundancies will be avoided as far as they can be. These things are being looked at all the time by the managers who run the service on a day-to-day basis.”

The partnership, once up and running, will manage path labs across seven hospitals including its hub at the Royal London, Homerton, Whipps Cross Hospital, Newham University Hospital, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, and University Hospital Lewisham.

Homerton will keep an essential services lab, which will include biochemistry, haematology, blood transfusion and microbiology to address its urgent needs.

The partnership also hopes it can bring other benefits, such as better quality services through investment in the new lab infrastructure and equipment.

There are also expected to be savings amounting to £51m shared among the organisations.

According to Homerton, the alternative to such an arrangement would have forced the hospital to look at outsourcing options - a particularly sensitive issue due to the well-publicised campaign around cleaning and facilities employees provided by private company ISS.

Tracey Fletcher, chief executive at Homerton, said she was pleased to see the business case approved: “We will also see the development, at Homerton, of new laboratory facilities in the shape of an Essential Services Laboratory to ensure we can provide fast turnaround testing services for our A&E and other key acute services.”

In response to Cllr Kennedy’s concerns, the Homerton spokesperson said they are “confident” there will be no delays with test results and redundancies will be “avoided as much as possible”.

They added: “Managers from the three Trusts have been working together to manage any vacancies that arise, looking for opportunities for current staff to be used flexibly to fill vacant posts and for essential vacancies to be covered by fixed term contract posts.

“This management of staff vacancies should avoid any potential job losses as the new organisation takes shape.”