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Pause’ privatisation of ‘meltdown’ NHS cervical screening services, says Unite
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has been urged to suspend the possible privatisation of cervical screening services used by thousands of women in England every year, following claims that the service is in ‘meltdown’.
Unite, the union, said that the crisis could further worsen if the tenders - when the current 46 laboratories are reduced to nine – are allowed to go ahead. The successful bidders are expected to be announced on 12 April.
Unite’s call comes as NHS England said that it was taking back in-house the administration of the service from Capita from June, after it was revealed more than 40,000 women had not received the appropriate smear test information from the outsourcing giant.
In his letter to Matt Hancock, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe called for the suspension of the cytology tendering process, so a full review can take place to ensure the smooth transition to primary HPV testing without backlogs and delays to patients.
In his letter Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “We ask you (Matt Hancock) to use your office to intervene especially, after the press reports over the weekend that state the cervical screening service is in ‘meltdown’, following the launch of a Public Health England campaign to encourage more women to attend cervical screenings.
“This follows reports that there are already several months in backlogs in patients receiving their cervical test results. This is traumatic for patients and is caused by not just the extra demand for cervical screening, but also the shortage of scientific staff who conduct the tests.
“Some are deciding to leave the service rather than taking a chance to find out if their laboratory will be a winner in the tendering process.
“The recent National Audit Office report on health screening highlights several warnings that the roll out of the HPV programme and the resulting staff shortages will affect performance by causing backlogs and delays leading to missed targets for sample turnaround times.”
Unite’s letter follows the reported comments of the chair of the British Association for Cytopathology Alison Cropper that the cervical cancer screening service is ‘in meltdown’.
Commenting on NHS England’s Capita decision, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added: “This announcement by NHS England strongly reinforces Unite’s argument that the outsourcing of NHS services to profit-hungry companies is a fatally flawed model. You can’t put a shareholder price tag on women’s health.”
A recent Unite survey of its healthcare science membership revealed that:
- 80 per cent respondents said their workload had increased either a little or a lot over the previous year.
- 71 per cent said that morale in their workplace was worse or a lot worse compared to the year before.
- Workplace stress, restructuring or reorganisation and dissatisfaction in the quality of care they are able to provide were the three main causes for declining morale
- 68 per cent had raised concerns over safe staffing in their workplace over the previous 12 months.
Notes to editors:
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
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