HEALTH campaigners say they are concerned pathology services could be moved away from Dorset County Hospital.

The recently formed Dorset Health Campaign say they are concerned a current tendering project for the Dorchester hospital could lead to pathology services being shipped out to a private company with a loss of local jobs.

However, hospital bosses say if the current services at DCH are found to be the best the service will stay at the hospital and that whatever happens with the process, essential pathology services will remain on site.

A report to Dorset County Council’s Dorset Health Scrutiny Committee on May 23, stated that the aims of the project were: using a tender process, to compare our pathology services against other interested providers to determine if DCH is providing the best value service and use the outcomes to inform a decision on the future provision of the service.

Out of a total of 29 interested parties, four have been selected to go forward to the next stage of procurement- these are a mixture of NHS and private organisations.

The report states: “The existing internally-delivered pathology service has not tendered for this service. The trust has used the pathology staff's expertise to produce specification documents and evaluate supplier responses.

“This precludes them from bidding themselves. The internal service will be benchmarked against the service specification and costs.

“The internal service will then be compared against the best potential supplier from the tender process. This will inform the final decision.”

Hospital bosses said that no decision has yet been made but if there is a new provider of pathology services, staff would be protected under employment law.

The final decision of the future of the pathology service is expected in September.

Cllr Ros Kayes said the group were concerned about the potential loss of highly skilled local jobs and that if DCH lost the service it ‘won’t come back.’ She said the plans were concerning, she said: “Especially because there’s nothing wrong with the Dorchester pathology lab, why do they need to move it? Is it just about cost cutting?”

If urgent samples needed to be couriered away for testing they were concerned patients might not get the results as quickly as currently, Cllr Kayes added.

She said: “Privatisation is rarely the most appropriate answer to providing improved quality of health care in a city - in a rural area the impact can be catastrophic."

A founder member of the group, Sally Cooke, said they had questions about the future quality of the service. She said: “How do we know the public will still get a good, timely, and high quality service if the path lab should go private? And what redress is there if a private provider delivers a poor service? We are concerned about the loss of local employment and skills."

SPEAKING about the process, Jean O’Callaghan, Chief Executive of Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said that nationally there was a move toward centralising pathology services rather than having a full pathology service in every hospital as it was more sustainable for the future and maintains quality.

She said: “Quality standard requirements are much higher now for laboratory services and it is difficult for smaller centres like ours to keep up with these, to invest in the latest equipment and to recruit the necessary staff.

“At the heart of this project is a commitment to ensuring our patients are receiving the very best pathology services and, whatever the outcome of this process is, essential pathology services will remain on site. The hospital could not function otherwise.

“As a publicly funded organisation we have to use our resources in the best way possible. We are using a tender process to compare our pathology services against other interested parties to determine whether we are providing the best value in terms of quality and cost.

“We will use the outcome of the tender process to inform a decision on the future provision of the services. This decision will be made by the Trust Board.”

She added: “One of the options, based on the evaluation, could be to keep our current services. If the project demonstrates that our own in-house services are the best then we will retain those services.

“Our procurement process is open and transparent and our service specification is very detailed. Any provider will have to demonstrate that they can meet our high expectations on quality and turnaround times for test results.

“We appreciate that this is an unsettling time for our pathology staff and we are working closely with them. We are grateful for their patience and help with this project. We hope to be able to make a final decision in September 2014.”