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‘Uncertain future’

Fears over possible privatisation of NHS cervical screening services
Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, Monday, January 21st, 2019

Well-founded fears are being expressed about the possible privatisation of cervical screening services used by thousands of women in England every year – which we say is the latest manifestation of the accelerating privatisation of the NHS.


Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union with 100,000 members in the health service, says that alarm bells are ringing, as the deadline for the tendering process for laboratory services involving cervical screening was last week (January 16).


The privatisation trend has gathered pace since the Tories came to power in 2010, with services ranging from GP practices, community nurses, and estates and maintenance staff falling under the privatisation yoke.


Richard Branson’s Virgin Care has been particularly proactive and aggressive in acquiring contracts to run NHS services.


Analysis of the Department of Health’s published accounts shows that the share of spending by NHS commissioners on the private sector was 7.3 per cent of the revenue budget in 2017/18.


The fundamental objection to privatisation is that money spent on private health companies is not all going on frontline services for patients and clients – but also to profit hungry shareholders.


And given that the vast majority of the NHS budget – some £124 billion in England in 2017/18 – goes on salaries and wages, it is clear where private healthcare companies aim to make savings.


But cutting staff and reducing terms and conditions hits the frontline staff that the NHS, already notching up 100,000 vacancies across all disciplines,  depends on to function on a 24/7, 365-day basis.


That’s why Unite will be campaigning to protect healthcare science jobs and skills in the NHS to ensure thousands of women have a world class cervical screening service.


The successful bidders for the cervical screening services are expected to be announced on  April 12, with the full implementation of the HPV programme by the end of the year when the current 46 laboratories are reduced to just nine.


The sudden announcement of this reduction to nine centres for primary cervical cytology screening is a hammer blow to our members working in this vital service.


The uncertainty facing the current workforce, as a result of possible privatisation, could result in instability and the ability of current NHS providers to be able to deliver a robust service.


The possibility of losing hundreds of skilled, highly qualified professionals from the NHS, thus eroding the science and technical skills base in the NHS, is to be deplored. The impact on thousands of women, who rely on cytology screeners to analyse cervical smear tests, is a huge concern.


Basically, everyone will be kept in suspense until April 12. This has resulted in the knock-on effect of posts not being replaced, resulting in further delays in turnaround times at a number of sites.


Turnaround should, ideally, be within ten days, but it widely known that eight weeks is now common place.


Many of our members working in cytology screening are part-time women, with many years of loyal service, and who have a dedicated skills set, so it is hugely disappointing that their future employment faces such an uncertain future.


We want NHS England to guarantee that the NHS remains the primary provider for these services and to rule out any job losses as a result of this new set-up.


This is a key campaign that has only just started. We ask UniteLive readers to raise these concerns with councillors, MPs and local health campaign groups.


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