Pathology Privatisation Fiasco


The Serco-led public-private partnership which runs London’s St Thomas’ and Kings College hospitals’ path labs, GSTS Pathology, has run into trouble having made a loss of £6m in 2011.

Freedom of Information requests have revealed that turnaround times for pathology results have been too slow 46 times in 2011 and this has caused ‘critical risk’ in 14 cases; and an increase in clinical incidents of concern, such as losing or mislabelling blood products

Other faults were noted with the IT system. A new IT system did not work well and £2.7m was written off.

Kings made a loss of £800,000 on its investments in the venture in 2011, and St Thomas’ made a more than £2.2m loss. GSTS Pathology is relying on the hospitals and Serco’s parent company not calling in £13m in loans.

St Thomas’ entered its pathology department into a limited liability partnership with Serco in 2009, and in October 2010, Kings College joined GSTS, just after its NHS pathology lab had a £3m refurbishment.

The two hospitals provided the labs, equipment and staff and over £3m of capital. Serco provided no capital but was paid £5m to provide management consultants to ‘transform’ the service and £5m for set up costs. Serco has 51% of the voting rights.

The management consultants set out to cut the costs of tests by 30% by changing the staff skill mix and reducing the cost of 24 hour access, by ‘changing working arrangements’.

Staff have warned that many experienced scientific staff have left and that new recruits are inadequately trained and have no job security as they are employed on fixed term contracts.

The Care Quality Commission this year reported that GSTS was not compliant with the regulation to ensure staff were ‘properly trained and supervised, and have the chance to develop their skills.’ Also, the competency levels of some staff were deficient.

GSTS now proposes to courier the one million blood tests sent in from GPs to St Thomas’, to Kings to be analysed by an expanded night shift. Thirteen jobs will be lost at St Thomas’, and five new staff employed at Kings.

Also, most of the nationally famous toxicology department at St Thomas’ would be closed down or sold off. The immunology services would also be removed from St Thomas’, leaving it as an ‘Essential Services Laboratory’ only.

GSTS also runs the pathology department at Bedford Hospital and is bidding to run pathology services for the large East of England region.