Changes are to be introduced to the out-of-hours pathology service at Jersey General Hospital as part of an ongoing programme of modernisation.
The Health and Social Services Department (HSSD) regularly reviews, updates and develops services at the General Hospital. Whilst the current service has been in existence for many years, and provides accurate test results, compared to most units elsewhere the service is often slow, old fashioned in terms of delivery and extremely expensive when compared to similar services on the mainland and on islands.
The current review is in line with the Lord Carter report, aiming to ensure Jersey’s pathology service mirrors best practice recommendations in the UK’s National Health Service and adapts these for the Jersey context. In order to modernise and improve the service, HSSD has brought in an experienced and expert pathology modernisation manager.
The most recent element of the review has focused on the Jersey’s out-of-hours pathology service. This out-of-hours service provides diagnostic tests at night and at weekends, ensuring round-the-clock access to emergency laboratory test results.
Traditionally this essential service has been provided by biomedical scientists undertaking a voluntary on-call rota in addition to their regular hours. For this extra work these members of staff have received a supplementary allowance in addition to their normal salary.
The current agreement expired in 2011 and arrangements were extended to the end of September 2013, so that discussions and negotiations could take place with the staff and the union to put in place a new agreement from 1 October this year.
The remuneration for out-of-hours pathology work has been shown to be very significantly in excess of that paid to staff for similar services in the UK, including both inner London and Guernsey. The level of pay for this small group of staff is also very considerably more than is paid to any other medical or clinical group providing similar on-call services within HSSD. To reflect these factors, negotiations have been underway to realign existing pay levels for the out-of-hours pathology cover.
As the on-call service is voluntary and non-contractual, any changes would not affect an employee’s substantive contract or pay.
The 18 biomedical staff who currently provide the voluntary out-of-hours service have all rejected the negotiating team’s very fair and reasonable final offer. In the light of this, and to ensure the continuity of a safe and effective service to the Hospital after October 1 2013, the Pathology Department have had no alternative but to instigate and proceed with a contingency plan.
A team of six highly experienced laboratory scientists, known as locums, whom have all worked in Clinical Pathology Accredited (CPA) laboratories, the same CPA that accredits Jersey Pathology, have been recruited from the UK and will run the out-of-hours service for an initial period of three months, starting on 1 October, while further modernisation and service redesign can take place. During September the locums are working with the current staff and undertaking local orientation training.
It should be stressed that this is a temporary arrangement while the modernisation project makes progress and current users of the service will experience no change to the availability or quality of the service. These arrangements, and the over-arching modernisation project itself, have the full support of the Hospital’s senior doctors.
A HSSD spokesperson, said the project, which aims to develop a modern Blood Sciences Service would bring the current service up to date, providing better patient experience, a higher quality of service to clinicians and greater value for the investment the Island makes in healthcare.
“The use of locums is something that is required to enable the delivery of essential clinical services in any busy acute hospital, and even more so in an Island environment,” he said. “This temporary arrangement will provide a first-class, expert service to patients and clinicians while the modernisation project makes progress.”