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.
“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,” said Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.
“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; a meaningful consultation by NHS England and NHS Improvement with stakeholders and trade unions.
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.”