In light of the ongoing publicity surrounding Dorset County Hospital’s pathology services tendering project I thought it would be helpful to give your readers some further background information.

The most important thing to emphasise is that pathology services will not close at Dorset County Hospital, whatever option is taken after the tendering process.

It is also important to understand why we are looking at options.

We have experienced a number of issues recently, which highlight the increasing difficulties of providing high quality and sustainable pathology services:

• An inspection of blood services by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency resulted in us being under special measures for a number of non-compliances and the threat of a ‘cease and desist’ order, which would prevent all surgery from taking place. We have worked hard to improve this position including reallocating funds to mitigate the risks;

• We have struggled to consistently meet turnaround times;

• We have difficulty recruiting to highly specialised roles such as histopathologists;

• Increasing competition from other lab services providers;

• Ongoing capital investment will be required but capital is limited and the board needs to prioritise this expenditure.

In addition, The Lord Carter reports of 2006 and 2008 recommended pathology services be consolidated to improve quality and highlight the impossibility of every hospital in England maintaining a stand-alone pathology service.

The regulatory quality pathology standards rise incrementally each year and these standards, and the increasing level of technology, are becoming more challenging for the hospital to meet.

The trust is using a tender process to see if 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.

It is incumbent on the board to look at all possibilities and it would be negligent in its duties to ignore a service that we will struggle to maintain at the standards expected and where guidance points to a number of alternative sustainable models of care.

Jean O’Callaghan, Chief Executive Dorset County Hospital, NHS Foundation Trust