Fears have been expressed about the possible privatisation of cervical screening services used by thousands of women in England every year.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union with 100,000 members in the health service, said that alarm bells are ringing, as this week was the deadline for the tendering process for laboratory services involving cervical screening.

The successful bidders are expected to be announced on 12 April, with the full implementation of the HPV programme by the end of 2019, when the current 46 laboratories are reduced to nine.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Unite will be campaigning to protect healthcare science jobs and skills in the NHS to ensure thousands of women have a world class cervical screening service.

“We don’t believe privatisation of this essential NHS service is in the long term interests of patients and staff.

“The uncertainty facing the current workforce, as a result of possible privatisation, could result in instability and the ability of current NHS providers to be able to deliver a robust service.

“The possibility of losing hundreds of skilled, highly qualified professionals from the NHS, thus eroding the science and technical skills base in the NHS, is to be deplored. The impact on thousands of women, who rely on cytology screeners to analyse cervical smear tests, is a huge concern.

“Basically, everyone will be kept in suspense until 12 April. This has resulted in the knock-on effect of posts not being replaced, resulting in further delays in turnaround times at a number of sites.

“Turnaround should, ideally, be within ten days, but it widely known that eight weeks is now common place.”

Unite wants NHS England to guarantee that the NHS remains the primary provider for these services and to rule out any job losses as a result of this new set-up.

Unite lead officer for cytology services Gary Owen said: “The sudden announcement of a reduction to just nine centres for primary cervical cytology screening is a hammer blow to our members working in this vital service.
“Compounding the matter is the prospect that our members may be transferred out of the NHS to a private, profit hungry, company, whose paramount interest is putting money into shareholders’ pockets.
“Many of our members working in cytology screening are part-time women, with many years of loyal service, and who have a dedicated skills set, so it is hugely disappointing that their future employment faces such an uncertain future.

“Unite will do all it can to support these members through this difficult process.”

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org 

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