NHS Improvement has identified 29 potential pathology networks

NHS Improvement has today announced a proposal for the formation of 29 networks for the delivery of non-specialised pathology services in England. The proposals are based on data collected from providers and aim to reduce unwarranted variation and reduce inefficiency. NHS Improvement anticipates that savings of at least £200 million will be made by 2020-21.

This initiative builds on the recommendations made in Lord Carter’s report on operational productivity, to which the College responded in detail. We are pleased to see that NHS Improvement has addressed some of the concerns raised, particularly in relation to the collection of reliable data. We are also reassured that NHS Improvement appreciates the importance of good IT provision and standardisation of test requesting, although there has been no further progress on the National Laboratory Medicine Catalogue.

Not all of the College’s original concerns have been addressed and doubts remain about the size and timescale of projected savings. The College’s priority remains the provision of high quality pathology services for all patients. This cannot be delivered without investment in recruiting and training sufficient numbers of appropriately-qualified staff and creating an environment in which education and research can flourish.

Engagement with pathology staff and patients will be vital if the proposed networks are to succeed. It is also essential that lessons are learnt from earlier attempts at consolidation, particularly identifying why several consolidated services have failed to deliver the anticipated increase in quality and reduction in costs.

As a member of the Pathology Alliance, the College has a seat on NHS Improvement’s Pathology Optimisation Delivery Board, along with the ACB, IBMS, ACP and BIA. Representatives of these organisations had no input into the proposals but will work with NHS Improvement to ensure that the importance of issues such as recruitment and retention of the workforce, training and research remain at the forefront of future discussions. Without these, improvements in patient care are unlikely to be realised.