Privatizing blood tests: The awful truth

Given as how blood tests are so central to the treatment of thyroid ailments, I thought the following piece from the latest Private Eye (No.1336, 22 March 2013, p.31), is worth republishing here. Read and be horrified. Under the heading 'Silent Witless' we read:

NEW evidence of the effects of cost-cutting by GSTS Pathology, a joint venture between Serco and three London hospitals, will further alarm doctors and patients fighting plans to send blood and tissue tests from Essex and Hertfordshire GPs to the GSTS-run labs in Bedford instead of local hospitals.

Eye readers may recall that more than 100 hospital consultants, experts across all medical fields, have written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt warning of the threat to patient safety caused by delay in having to transport blood and other tissue samples up to 88 miles for testing. Now minutes of Bedford's clinical governance committee meetings, obtained through freedom of information requests, show that senior scientists have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact staff shortages are having on the quality of the pathology service since it was privatised two years ago.

In 2011 the lead consultant for clinical biochemistry complained that GSTS was "cutting corners" and warned that "with the decrease in the number of qualified senior staff there is a limit to the safe provision of a quality service". Echoing reports from St Thomas' hospital of "clinical incidents" increasing after GSTS took over (see Eye 1329), the consultant said there had been an unacceptable increase in the number of errors and incidents.

Three months after GSTS bosses demanded a further 10 percent saving, minutes showed that the department was "struggling" to maintain its on-call service. Another clinical director "expressed concerns" that there was "little cross cover" for infection control after GSTS managers rejected requests to hire a suitably qualified consultant microbiologist.

By mid-2012 there was "no on-call cover for blood films" in the haematology department, while the lack of training for staff in how to read the films was causing "huge time constraints".

The resignation of a senior consultant in July was described as a "major concern". Elsewhere, the head of cellular pathology was expressing her "concerns for the quality issues" in the histology lab, which had to cope with an increased workload and old equipment not being replaced.

All this will be depressingly familiar to anyone who has followed the (lack of) progress in the London hospital pathology labs that GSTS took over in 2010 (Eye 1273). Just as in St Thomas' and King's - where further "consolidation" continues to be delayed by computer problems - the IT system is causing problems in Bedford. Chlamydia data has not been submitted accurately, TB results have been "overwritten" and faulty data has plagued clinical biochemistry.

As the already overstretched Bedford departments are set to take on more responsibility, the cost-cutting looks set to continue. An internal report from GSTS management in January said it will be looking to make another £3.9m of "efficiency savings" across its services in 2013, as it aims for a £3m "surplus".

2 Replies

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  • Ironic that is the lab doing the Active B12 tests...

  • I'm not sure what's ironic about it? Downright frightening would be more accurate.

    And St. Thomas's is where I get my blood tests done. Talking of which, it used to be 5-7 days turnaround, now it's 7-10.

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