CAMPAIGNERS say they fear discussions about the future of Dorset County Hospital’s pathology service are ‘going on behind closed doors’.

It comes ahead of a gathering of campaigners outside the hospital today.

Patient governor Andy Hutchings has criticised the hospital after it refused to reveal details of companies which have tendered to run the service at a public meeting last week.

Private companies were invited to bid to provide the Pathology Laboratory service, which currently employs 100 people at DCH, with the hospital’s management trying to determine whether the current NHS Pathology Laboratory is providing the best value for money service.

But managers at the hospital say releasing the commercially sensitive information could ‘compromise the hospital as an organisation’.

Four companies have now been selected to go to the next stage of the tender process.

Mr Hutchings said: “As a governor, I am in a complete mist about this plan. Under the NHS Code of Practice, why can’t the management tell us the value of this contract and what is in the tender? There is a fundamental problem with privatisation in the NHS.”

The meeting, which was also attended by members of the Dorset Health Campaign who are fighting to keep the service in Dorchester, was told by director of finance and resources Libby Walters that if the hospital released the commercially sensitive information, it would compromise the hospital as an organisation.

But the fundamentals of the pathology arrangements can be released after the contract is awarded, she said.

Jean O’Callaghan, chief executive of Dorset County Hospital Foundation Trust, said: “The Trust is using a tender process to assess whether the existing pathology service is providing best value. We have the option of going with a bid or leaving our service as it is.

“The outcome of this process will not be finalised before the end of September 2014 and it will be the Trust Board that takes the decision.

“The Trust is following a procurement process governed by European Union Directives.

“The project team has been rigorous in adhering to best practice and the core principles of procurement, one of which is transparency. The specification has been written by Trust pathology and support service staff. “Tenders submitted by potential providers are being evaluated by 16 panel members representing the key disciplines.”

Campaigners are concerned that the new service would be located outside Dorchester and would cause a number of job losses.

But Ms O’Callaghan said: “The most important thing to emphasize is that pathology services will not close at Dorset County Hospital.

“Whatever option is taken after the tendering process, essential pathology services will remain on site.”

Cllr Ros Kayes, a founding member of the Dorset Health Campaign, said: “The big issue is that they say they will be transparent and that they want to involve the public but we are in a situation where they will not reveal any information, such as the specifications about it.

“There is a real, real danger when you are dealing with private organisations that it all gets done behind closed doors. It really isn’t transparent at all.”