FEARS are growing over jobs at a hospital department.
Staff in pathology labs at Sunderland Royal Hospital are concerned a potential merger with services at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth and South Tyneside District Hospital, in South Shields, could lead to cutbacks.
Although bosses at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust today confirmed that talks were under way about restructuring, they said no decision had yet been made over staffing levels.
Currently, 136 people are employed there.
However, health workers at the department have been contacting the Echo to voice their concerns about the future of the service.
One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said fears had been raised “that it will not work and that patient care is seriously at risk.
“The hospitals affected are Sunderland, Gateshead and South Shields.”
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.
A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “NHS organisations in South of Tyne and Wear have for some time been working together to identify where services can be delivered more effectively and efficiently with closer collaboration – these include the recent joint development of hyper acute stroke services.
“As part of this, discussions are underway between hospital trusts in Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside relating to pathology services.
“A preferred model has been identified which will ensure the provision of top quality pathology services in each locality and there is further work still to be undertaken abut how this can be delivered in practice.
“We would reassure all staff that no formal decisions have yet been taken on pathology services or their final structure.”
Last year, the Echo revealed how hospital workers across Sunderland had been invited to apply for redundancy as health chiefs battle to balance the books.
City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust told staff they could apply for severance as part of efforts to reduce its costs in the coming financial year.
Bosses said the scheme was part of the trust’s efforts to reduce its cost base by six per cent in 2011-12.
The aim was to create vacancies that did not need to be replaced, or which could be filled by redeployment of staff from posts that may no longer be required due to different ways of working.