CAMPAIGNERS fighting for the future of Dorset County Hospital’s pathology laboratory have welcomed a delay in a decision on the future of the service.

The Dorchester hospital is currently reviewing the service and the Dorset Health Campaign, who want to keep the service at hospital, fear it could be transferred to a privately run laboratory based in Taunton.

Dorset County Hospital’s trust board has now delayed a decision on the future of the laboratory until October, which will give the Dorset Health Scrutiny Committee a chance to make comments on the issue.

The trust board meeting when a decision was due to be made was scheduled for the same day as the next Health Scrutiny Committee meeting on September 10, which would have given the committee no chance to comment.

Cllr Ros Kayes, who sits on the committee and is a supporter of the Dorset Health Campaign, said: “It made little sense for a committee whose role is to scrutinise the process of changes to health provision, to only get to comment after the event.

“It really would have been closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

"I hope now that the Health Scrutiny Committee will get the chance to do a thorough investigation of this issue and, if there are problems in the way the process has been conducted, will be able to make appropriate recommendations.”

Dorset Health Campaign spokesman Andy Stillman added: “While we welcome the extra time to allow more people to be involved in the decision making process, at the end of the day we still see this privatisation as bring against both the best interests and wishes of the people who use the health services of Dorset.

"No argument has yet been shared with the public to justify such a risky change."

More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition supporting the Dorset Health Campaign’s efforts to keep the pathology laboratory in Dorchester.

A spokesperson for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our evaluation panel met on Thursday last week and after much deliberation were unable to recommend a preferred supplier.

“A number of clinical and non-clinical areas need further clarification, which could affect the outcome of the process.

“Obviously we want to make sure we get this right so we are allowing additional time for clarification.

“This means that at this point the tender process has not narrowed all of the potential providers down to one.

“The benchmarking comparison of our in-house service to the remaining potential provider will still take place as planned after the evaluation is complete.

“We recognise that the delay is unwelcome to staff who may be affected by this process and we appreciate the ongoing efforts of the staff on the evaluation panel. “Our intention is to minimise the delay as much as possible and we are working hard to achieve that aim.”