The shake-up of the cervical screening services used by tens of thousands of women in England every year has done nothing to qualm the fears of staff about job security and the mounting backlog for tests.
 
The warning has come from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, as NHS England confirmed seven of the successful bidders for the nine laboratories, reduced from the current 46. It is to these centres that samples for testing are sent.
 
Unite welcomed the news that the seven laboratories would remain within the NHS ‘family and not hived off to profit-hungry private healthcare companies. Bidders for the two other labs have yet to be confirmed. 
 
However, Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said there were serious concerns about the short nine month timescale for introducing the new nine lab set-up by December this year, compared with the nearly two years allowed for the process in Scotland.
 
The union is concerned about the lack of workforce planning which is fuelling concerns over job security, and retention of skilled scientific staff unwilling or unable to move to the reduced number of centres.
 
Unite warned that existing staff shortages would exacerbate the mounting waiting lists, which in turn, could  lead to missed targets for sample turnaround times.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “While we welcome the news that seven of the laboratories will remain within the NHS ‘family’, we have serious concerns over the speed that the proposed set-up is being introduced.
 
“The continued lack of coherent workforce planning is fanning worries about job security; retention of skilled staff unable to move from the labs that will be disbanded; and mounting waiting lists for women wishing to be screened.” 

Unite has outlined a five point action plan to rectify the situation:

• No compulsory redundancies for affected employees, similar to the pledges made in Scotland

• Regional deployment pools for affected employees

• Training bonds and funds made available for employees that wish to retrain so they can remain working in the NHS

• A more realistic time period to implement this new regime to ensure that there is minimum delay and disruption to tens of thousands of women who rely on cervical smear test results. The December 2019 target date is unrealistic and not achievable

• Meaningful consultation by NHS England and NHS Improvement with stakeholders and trade unions.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added: “Unite believes that health and social care secretary Matt Hancock needs to step back and take a deep breath and consult with the health unions over how to manage this process in a better way for the benefit of women attending cervical screenings and the dedicated staff who are currently in limbo about their futures.”

ENDS
 
Notes to editors:
 
The seven bidders announced so far are:
North West – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust
South Central – Berkshire & Surrey Pathology Services at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust
South East  – Berkshire & Surrey Pathology Services at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust
South West  – North Bristol NHS Trust
East Midlands  – University Hospital Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust
East - Norfolk & Norwich University NHS Foundation Trust
West Midlands – The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Foundation Trust

For the London and North East labs preferred bidders have been identified and the process of confirmation is ongoing. 
 
A recent Unite survey of its healthcare science membership revealed that 80 per cent of respondents said their workload had increased either a little or a lot over the previous year. 
 
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065
 
Email: shaun.noble@unitetheunion.org
 
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org 
 
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.