HOSPITAL bosses in Southend and Basildon are hiring a private company to run the blood testing service.
The move comes just over a year after both hospitals campaigned with the Echo on keeping blood testing local following a plan to outsource the service 90 miles away to Bedford.
The shock announcement was made by Clare Panniker, Basildon Hospital chief executive, and Jacqueline Totterdell, chief executive of Southend Hospital on Friday.
Pathology staff at both hospitals will be transferred to Integrated Pathology Partnerships, a joint venture between two French companies that already runs a similar service in the south west.
Sam Older from Unison, said: “We have real concerns about this meaning that there will need to be redundancies either now or in the future in order to make it work.
“We have also heard about the possibility of tests moving to one site between Basildon and Southend, which may mean not all staff can transfer, and for patients, if you need a result very quickly, but the sample had to travel through traffic, it could take longer.”
It is understood the hospitals have been working on bringing in a private contractor since June 2013.
The hospitals maintain that local staff will "continue to interpret the results", but do not say where the blood will be analysed.
Both hospitals said they could not comment further on the changes due to a "ten day standstill period" - required under European procurement law - so the deal with IPP can be finalised.
In a joint statement the chief executives said: "We are delighted to have agreed this joint venture as we believe this move will bring additional expertise, innovation and experience to the service and put it in the best possible position to bid for future contracts such as local community pathology services.
“We would reassure all interested parties that all clear and definite advantages to this project have been fully assessed to enable us to meet our overall objective of maintaining and securing a high quality and sustainable pathology service for our local population.”
In December 2012, NHS bosses announced plans to outsource blood tests to private company Community Pathology Services for analysis.
The blood would have been transported by road to Bedford prompting fears of delays due to traffic jams on major motorways.
More than 16,000 people signed our petition to keep services local, and the health service put the brakes on the plan in April 2013.
CAMPAIGNERS against the privatisation of the NHS and those who fought to stop blood testing being moved to Bedford are concerned at the plans.
The hospitals claim the move will allow them to save money by “maximising economies of scale” and told staff on Friday morning that they would have all their contracts transferred to the new company.
However, Norman Traub, secretary of Southend Keep our NHS Public and a retired doctor in the pathology department at Southend Hospital, fears the move won't be in the best interests of patients.
He said: “Private companies are not there for the benefit of patients, they are there for the benefit of their shareholders. They look to reduce staff or services to make money.
“The hospital’s services belong to the public – the people who raise funds for new equipment when it is needed – it is wrong to involve private companies.
“The Echo, doctors and patients had a wonderful campaign to stop services going to Bedford, but this seems like a case of what they couldn’t do in public they are trying to do by the back door.”
Westcliff GP and Southend Hospital board member Dr Marimuthu Velmurgan said: “We achieved what we wanted to do last year with the campaign and services won’t go to Bedford, but the hospital doesn’t want to lose any funding and they need to make changes to get it.”