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London pathology staff voting on strike action over hub move

Hundreds of laboratory staff in London are being balloted on strike action over a planned restructure by employer Synnovis, which the Unite union claims is unwanted and damaging.

Synnovis is contacted by King's College NHS Foundation Trust and Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust to run the outsourced pathology services for the trusts’ six hospitals (Guy's, St Thomas', King's College, Princess Royal University Hospital, Royal Brompton & Harefield). The company has heavily invested in a new hub at Blackfriars - set to open in 2025 - and plans to migrate the majority of its staff there. Services at the new hub will begin in April, with blood sciences, followed by the majority of services from October 2024. The plan is for it to be fully opened by January 2025.

The Unite union says that over 350 of its members are deeply unhappy and concerned over such a move. It says that job cuts will lead to a deterioration of pathology services across London and a loss of jobs as staff leave due to poor working conditions. It also criticised facilities at the hub and said its members are campaigning for pathology services to remain at trust hospitals.

The ballot opened on Wednesday 27 March and will run for five weeks. If the ballot is successful then industrial action later in the spring is highly likely.

Unite Regional Officer George Dodo-Williams commented: "Following an extremely poor consultation, Synnovis is reducing staff numbers in crucial areas of the service. This would result in a closure of a specialist service and have a negative impact upon other departments. The dismissal of staff counter proposals has left Unite with no choice but to ballot members for strike action. It is now up to Synnovis to avert strike action by taking our counter proposals seriously and adopting the suggested measures."

In a statement, Dr Tracy Ellison, Synnovis Managing Director has responded to the threat of strike action: “We understand that any change in working practice or location can cause colleagues to worry, and that until they see the new hub laboratory for themselves it is difficult to imagine what it will be like. We’ve invested tens of millions of pounds and more than five years’ planning in the delivery of a state-of-the-art laboratory with cutting-edge equipment and technology that will ultimately support the NHS in providing better patient care, whilst also providing a superior working environment for our workforce. We have also involved scientists and other colleagues since 2020 in the development of the new arrangements to ensure the requirements of our people and the service we deliver are met, if not exceeded.

“We have a previously-scheduled meeting with Unite representatives in early April and look forward to the opportunity to discuss the queries raised. We are confident we can provide the reassurances needed and can address misconceptions – through our ongoing, direct communication with both our staff and Unite.”

Responding to concerns over service provision, Synnovis has stated that smaller essential service laboratories (or ‘spokes’) will remain on each of the six hospital sites. These will perform specialised tests and process urgent samples which need to be turned around within four hours, eg for patients in hospital or attending the emergency department.

By spring 2025, once the phased transition of services is complete, the hub will process around 70% of all Synnovis activity, deliver hundreds of thousands of tests every day and serve a patient population of close to two million. The 10-floor hub building has been fitted out with bespoke facilities with the aim of significantly improving the working environment.

 

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