PLANS to all-but close down a hospital department have been announced.
Pathology labs at Sunderland Royal Hospital and South Tyneside District Hospital, in South Shields, are to merge with services at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth.
A Department of Health-funded £12million centre of excellence will be created in a former laundry room at the Gateshead hospital.
Health chiefs at Sunderland Royal have said the new centre, which should be completed by early 2014, will lead to cuts in staffing, but said they hoped to meet most of these through “natural turnover”.
So-called hot testing – those that need results within 90 minutes – will still be carried out at Sunderland and South Tyneside Hospitals, but it is expected the majority of Sunderland’s 136 pathology staff will move to Gateshead.
About 70 per cent of patient diagnoses are linked to the work of pathology staff.
They deal with millions of samples every year for patients at Ryhope General and Monkwearmouth hospitals, Sunderland Eye Infirmary and local health centres and GP practices, as well as Sunderland Royal.
Tests are carried out for illnesses including cancers, hepatitis, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis and MRSA.
Staff are responsible for blood transfusions and blood tests, cervical cancer screening, pregnancy tests and biopsies.
The announcement comes after a two-and-a-half year review of pathology services across South of Tyne as part of the Bigger Picture project, which looked at merging services across City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and NHS South of Tyne and Wear.
More information is expected to be released in the next stage of the project.
Ken Bremner, chief executive of City Hospitals Sunderland, said: “Whilst the new model brings with it many new opportunities, we should not forget that for staff who work here in Sunderland and have done for many years giving excellent service, this is a significant change for them both professionally and personally and we should not underestimate the impact that such changes will place on them in the coming weeks and months.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that we support them going forward, to ensure that any new service model is of the standard we have come to expect and that both they and us would want for our patients.”