Concerns raised as Yorkshire set to lose all its cervical cancer screening labs

The labs in Leeds, Sheffield and York are being moved to Gateshead. Pic: Tony Johnson
The labs in Leeds, Sheffield and York are being moved to Gateshead. Pic: Tony Johnson
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Yorkshire will no longer have a cervical screening laboratory from December this year after NHS England made the decision to move the Leeds, Sheffield and York services to Gateshead.

Unions have said about 50 people could be made redundant if they’re unable to move to the North East.

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The 46 labs currently operating in England are set to be reduced to just seven over the next three months, in a huge shake-up that will affect hundreds of biomedical scientists and technicians across England.

The move means samples which are collected from almost every GP’s surgery, clinic and hospital in Yorkshire, which used to be tested locally, will soon need to be sent more than 100 miles north in most cases.

Though the Sheffield lab had been a pilot for the new system, it was unsuccessful in its bid for the contract for the Yorkshire service.

Waiting lists in some areas are already two weeks long and critics have expressed concerns this change will cause them to mount even further.

Chris Daly, Unite regional officer said the union had no concerns about the quality of the testing at Gateshead, which is expanding to meet the demand, but questions needed to be asked about potential problems with the distance.

“The logistics aspect is quite significant,” he said. “We could be in a position where samples get stuck on the motorway. That could always have happened but now because there would be more samples on the vehicle, there would be more women affected.”

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Mr Daly called for more answers from the NHS about whether the loss of three labs in Yorkshire could cause a disruption in service provision and reassurance that the move was what was best for the people of Yorkshire.

“Our main concern is the loss of skills in the region,” he said.

“Yorkshire workers will be offered jobs in the North East but the reality is nobody’s going to commute from Sheffield, Leeds or York on a daily basis to work up in Gateshead, so it does mean there’s potential for them to be made redundant.”

Screening is a specialised job which means there are limited job options for anyone who is made redundant, he added.

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The union, which held a protest in Manchester this week at the NHS England conference, is calling for is training bonds and funds made available for employees that wish to retrain so they can remain working in the NHS.

It is also asking for a consultation and a change to what it calls the “purse before patient” culture in the NHS, which union representatives said causes services to be “hived off to profit-hungry private healthcare companies”.

A vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the main cause of cervical cancer, was introduced in 2009 and early results show it has reduced cervical cancer by 80 per cent in those who have had it. The vaccine is likely to mean demand will shrink for the screening service over the coming decades as fewer women need to be tested for cervical cancer.

NHS England has been contacted for comment.