Pathology sell-off sparks strike action ballot at Lond...

Pathology sell-off sparks strike action ballot at London’s leading hospitals

11 December 2014

Pathology staff at three of London's largest NHS hospitals are being balloted for strike action from today (Thursday 11 December) over the looming transfer threat to Serco-linked private healthcare firm Viapath.

Unite, Britain’s biggest union, warned that the transfer of more than 700 NHS laboratory staff from Guy’s, St Thomas’ and Kings College hospitals to private firm Viapath on 1 January 2015 is a ‘patient safety timebomb’, that marks the full-scale privatisation of the hospitals’ pathology services.

The ballot of Unite members closes on 22 December setting the stage for strike action by the end of the month.

Viapath which took over pathology management at the hospitals four years ago has been beset by problems and complaints, including accusations of poor management and bullying. Last year an audit revealed Viapath may have overcharged the hospitals by over £1 million.

Unite is calling for the 1 January transfer of NHS staff to be stopped and for pathology services at all three hospitals be brought back into the NHS with immediate effect.

Unite regional health officer Sarah Cook said: “It is an utter scandal that a highly skilled and dedicated workforce is being forced out of the NHS into the hands of a Serco-linked private company with such an appalling track record. We fear that this will lead to a race to the bottom in pay and terms and conditions.  

“Since Viapath’s takeover of pathology management important services, such as the toxicology laboratory have been closed, and repairs and upgrades of equipment are slow or non-existent. A culture of bullying and poor management has led to the mass exodus of skilled NHS staff with staff turnover rising from 7.9 per cent under the NHS to over 24 per cent.”

Frank Wood, Unite representative at King's College Hospital, said: "The past four years of private sector management have transformed two of the UK's best pathology labs into costly disasters. To press ahead with the transfer of more than 700 staff is a patient safety timebomb.

“Over 90 pathology staff have written a whistleblowing letter to the trust board highlighting their concerns about the service. They are awaiting an official management response.

“Unite is calling for the transfer to be stopped and that pathology services at all three hospitals be brought back into the NHS. Unite believes only fully publicly owned and run pathology services can guarantee a safe service for patients.”

The NHS scientists have been holding protests outside St Thomas Hospital against the staff transfer. They believe it poses a danger to patient safety and will possibly lead to the failure of pathology services at the hospital.

For further information contact Unite communications officer, Chantal Chegrinec on 07774 146 777/ 0203 271 2063 or Sarah Cook Unite health regional official on 07768 69 3949 or Mark Boothroyd on 07812 936 466. 

Notes for editors:

1.  Pathology laboratories are central to the NHS, with blood and tissue analysis used in 70 per cent of all patient diagnoses. Viapath – a joint venture between Serco and Guy's and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust and King’s College Hospital – is the largest pathology service provider in the UK, processing more than 22 million tests a year in London and Bedford.

2.  There has been a rise in errors and clinical incidents under Viapath's management. In 2011 the service exceeded the agreed monthly turnaround times for tests 46 times, with critical risk levels breached 14 times. Clinical incidents recorded in 2012 included one patient being given “inappropriate blood” and kidney damage results bring calculated incorrectly:

3.   In 2011 Viapath made a loss of £5.9 million and had to be bailed out with funds from both Guy's and St Thomas and King's College Hospital. In 2012 Viapath only recorded a profit following a £1.3 million loan from parent company Serco.

4.    A 2013 internal audit of accounts uncovered by Corporate Watch, found that in 2012 Viapath may have overcharged Guy's and St Thomas Hospital's by over £1 million pounds.

5.   Serco is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging on contracts with the Ministry of Justice.

6.   In 2013, The Public Accounts Committee found Serco guilty of data manipulation, a bullying managerial culture and not meeting national standards resulting in the termination of it's out of hours GP contract in Cornwall. 

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey