Proposals to create a new super NHS laboratory in the northwest by closing local sites while 200 biomedical scientists are busy testing for Covid-19 will create delays in processing samples, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, warned today (Thursday 7 May).
Unite said the plans by Lancashire and South Cumbria Central Laboratories Partnership to merge the labs at Blackburn, Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston into one super lab at a yet–to-be identified site would mean delays in testing samples which would have a detrimental impact on the estimated 500,000 people the super lab would serve.
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, accused NHS bosses of using the coronavirus emergency to push through this already rejected merger plan ‘under the radar’ when other similar collaborations, such as at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, have postponed all further plans until the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
Unite said the plans were ‘a stab in the back’ for the biomedical scientists currently working at full stretch to process lab samples, including those for Covid-19, who have not got the time to examine the plan.
Merger plans for a super lab at Lancaster, covering the areas of five NHS trusts, were rejected last year as it would make the service too remote from local GPs and hospitals, and increase processing times from the current 24-to-48 hours.
In a letter to the partnership, Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “Unite finds it totally unacceptable that during the Covid 19 crisis you have seized upon this opportunity to force through merger plans and exclude the participation of Unite, the main representative of laboratory workers for this project.
“Unite calls upon this project to cease until the Covid-19 crisis has ended. I can say that apart from the despicable manner the trusts have chosen to progress this matter, be aware that when it is appropriate Unite, if necessary, will move to immediately ballot its members for industrial action.”
Commenting Keith Hutson added: “NHS bosses are using the pandemic to reintroduce this flawed plan under the radar which will increase the times for processing samples. Our members who have given their all during this crisis feel the deliberate lack of consultation is a stab in the back.
“We are going to involve the region’s MPs in this campaign, including The Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley, as, in the long-term, we fear that any super lab could be ripe for being sold off to a profit-hungry healthcare company.
“If one thing has become clear during the last two months, it is that the British public respect and deeply value the NHS and its staff – and don’t want to see it being salami-sliced and privatised.”