As many as 50 highly skilled jobs will be lost next month as Yorkshire’s cervical screening labs move to the North East.
The NHS has reassured patients in the region that they will not notice any change to the smear test results service as samples will be tested at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, instead of local labs in Leeds, Sheffield and York.
Trade union Unite said jobs in the North East were offered to every lab worker from Yorkshire but as many as 50 highly skilled people were unable or unwilling to move and are being made redundant.
In September, a memo sent to GPs seen by The Yorkshire Post told doctors to advise there may be an eight-week wait for test results in Leeds as the service deals with a backlog.
The memo said: “Whilst it is very unlikely that the level of delay will cause or increase the risk of clinical harm, please advise people that if they experience significant delays and are worried, to contact their GP practice or the clinic where their sample was taken.”
While NHS England admitted there would be a delay, it stressed that the delay did not mean women were coming to harm.
The 46 cytology labs currently operating in England are set to be reduced to just seven over the next few weeks in a huge shake-up that will affect hundreds of biomedical scientists and technicians across England.
The services are being consolidated because technology has improved, meaning fewer staff are required. Early results also show the vaccine for the human papillomavirus, which is given to all teenage girls in the UK, also means rates of cervical cancer are set to drop by 80 per cent over the coming decades, reducing the need for smear tests.
Since The Yorkshire Post first reported the move in September, York Hospital confirmed 14 jobs will be lost in York, with more expected to be lost in Leeds and Sheffield, though these hospitals said they were not able to confirm the numbers.
Dr David Hughes, medical director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are already providing support to our staff who are affected by the change following the national decision and we will continue to do so.
“There is no impact on women being able to access cervical screening through the smear tests carried out by GPs, this change only affects where the tests are analysed and reported.”
York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said it had fought hard for the service to stay in the region and the decision was made at a national level.
It said it had managed to find jobs for many of the people affected but 14 people would be made redundant.
Trevor Hair, head biomedical scientist for the York Cytology department, said: “We entered a procurement process to become one of only nine laboratories in the country to support the delivery of HPV primary screening within the NHS Cervical Screening Programme across England.
“Unfortunately, our bid was unsuccessful, and the work will be transferred to Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust.”
A spokesperson said the hospital was “very sad to lose this service”, adding: “We are sorry to say goodbye to colleagues from such a highly skilled and exemplary team and would like to thank everyone for their hard work over the years.”
A spokesperson for NHS England and Improvement said: “NHS England and Public Health England are introducing a new testing process for cervical screening which will identify more women at risk of cervical cancer and save more lives.
“The NHS wants to retain experienced and skilled people so is working to identify opportunities across existing services and local providers will be discussing any transition arrangements fully with their staff.”
Phil Wood, Medical Director at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We are working closely with staff who work within the service who are affected by this change to support them during this time.”