There has been too much reliance on the private sector when it comes to laboratory testing for coronavirus and not enough investment in long-established NHS facilities, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Wednesday 16 September).
Unite’s stance is underpinned by its Biomedical Scientist Covid-19 survey, launched today, which highlights the under-use of NHS science facilities and resources as the crisis over the nationwide gaps in the Covid-19 testing regime escalates.
The survey reveals Unite members’ unhappiness at the government’s reliance and priority given to the seven Lighthouse Laboratories, with private sector involvement, while long-established NHS facilities are being apparently sidelined when it comes to investment.
The report is being sent to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, and the chair of the Commons health and social care select committee Jeremy Hunt, as well as MPs.
The survey said: Concerns about under-utilisation of NHS resources were matched by concerns around the introduction of the new Lighthouse Laboratories and the impact this was having on NHS services.
“Broadly these concerns focused on the quality of services provided, the diversion of resources from the public sector and the decision making, and transparency process used to commission these new laboratories.
Healthcare science staff and their trade unions have been left in the dark regarding these processes.”
More than 85 per cent of the survey’s respondents agreed that there was concern about the service quality from the Lighthouse Laboratories and over 90 per cent concurred that there were worries about the transparency and contracting arrangements for these laboratories.
In contrast, only 38 per cent said their NHS laboratories were working at full capacity, but there was near unanimous support for further investment in NHS labs, so they are well-placed to undertake the mass testing of millions envisaged by Operation Moonshot.
Unite said that Operation Moonshot should not become ‘an ill-deserved pay day bonanza’ for private healthcare companies which had fallen short during the pandemic to the extent that they have asked the NHS to help out.
Unite lead officer for healthcare science Gary Owen said: “The government’s obsession with involving the private sector in the Covid-19 ‘trace and test’ regime has been shown to be flawed and misguided, as more and more people report difficulties in trying to get a test near to their home.
“If ministers have learnt any lessons from Covid-19 it should be that the NHS, with the right level of investment, is best placed to provide laboratory testing for such a global pandemic as we are currently going through.”
Chair of the Unite healthcare science committee Ian Evans said: “Long-established NHS laboratories with a wealth of professional experience built up over decades appear to have been marginalised in the battle against coronavirus – this has been a huge mistake.”

The report can be accessed via:

https://unitetheunion.org/media/3331/9199_biomed-scientists_survey_summer2020_final-digital.pdf

The survey was distributed on two dates in June by email to all Unite members within healthcare science. This snapshot survey generated 388 responses from across the UK.

Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble

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