Centralised pathology centre for Lancashire faces delays

All of Lancashire's non-urgent blood tests could be processed in Lancaster by the mid-2020s.
All of Lancashire's non-urgent blood tests could be processed in Lancaster by the mid-2020s.
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A plan to start processing all of Lancashire’s non-urgent blood tests on a single site has been put back by three years.

The centralised facility - to be based at Lancaster University - had been due to open in 2021. But the local democracy reporting service has learned that funding for the new unit will not be confirmed until a year after that - meaning it cannot open until 2024.

The final business case for the centre now needs the approval of the Treasury, as well as the Department of Health and NHS Improvement (NHSI). It was revealed last year that the combined operation would require a £31m grant - but could save Lancashire’s hospital trusts a combined £11m a year in running costs.

During the delay, collaboration will be stepped up between existing pathology facilities - at Blackpool Victoria, Blackburn Hospital, Burnley General, Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, Furness General, the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and the Royal Preston Hospital.

All of the current sites will retain their urgent blood testing capability even after the new Lancaster hub opens.

The Unite union has condemned the centralisation plan - claiming it has so far cost at least £600,000 - and criticised a lack of consultation with concerned and experienced staff.

Keith Hutson, Unite regional organiser, said the pause in the project would prove that collaboration was the best way forward.

“I’m all for closer working - we can save fortunes without having massive upheaval,” he said.

“We can look at sending specialised tests to certain labs, but most GP work needs to be done quickly - and for that, it needs to be done locally. There’s no need to be dragging blood samples all over the county to somewhere which is far from the main centres of population.”

The union has also called for NHS bosses to abandon plans to recruit a managing director for the pathology project.

“There’s only one reason for that role - and that is to have someone to blame when it all goes wrong - existing senior staff won’t touch it, because they know it’s a poison chalice,” Mr. Hutson added.

Jean Wright, Programme Director of the Lancashire Pathology Collaboration said: “NHSI are continually reviewing their business case guidance and have recently given a date of 2024 for the hub to be built, based on the time they anticipate the Treasury would need for their approval process, if required.

“We have been asked by NHSI to add more technical detail into some sections of the Strategic Outline Case, but this won’t change the previously approved recommendations.”