NHS blood service to be streamlined

Health reforms: Savings of pounds 10m forecast as Dorrell unveils bluep rint for cutting bureaucracy and overcapacity
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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Plans were unveiled yesterday for a major shake-up of the troubled National Blood Service, aimed at cutting bureaucracy, reducing overcapacity and achieving savings of about pounds 10m over the next three years.

Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, said the proposals would improve care at every level from donors to hospitals and patients. But the reorganisation was immediately attacked by the Manufacturing Science Finance union which said the plans, which involve about 300 job losses, were based on flawed data on the estimated overcapacity of the service.

The union's John Simmons said the Government had "savaged the testing and processing of blood and ripped the guts out of the rest of the service"

Some doctors, concerned about a threatened decline in the quality of service as a result of the changes, described the establishment of a new National User Group to monitor provision to hospitals, as "purely cosmetic" and of no practical use.

Harriet Harman, Labour's health spokeswoman, said the proposals were a "false economy" which would incur greater distribution costs and wastage of surplus blood.

Mr Dorrell's announcement yesterday brings to an end a crisis-ridden year for the National Blood Authority which manages the blood service.

Its regional centres have been hit by the departure of key scientific and managerial staff, disillusioned by the uncertainty over their future. Earlier this year, the NBA presided over a public relations disaster involving faulty blood storage bags, known as Tuta bags, which led to thousands of pints of donated blood being destroyed. And in October, the Independent revealed that Factor VIII, a product of donated blood, was being sold to Turkey where it commanded exorbitant prices in a commercial market.

The NBA, set up in 1993 in the wake of the NHS changes, submitted proposals to the Government for the reorganisation of the blood service in September last year. A consultation process followed, culminating in the statement yesterday.

Mr Dorrell said he agreed with the NBA that administrative functions now carried out at 13 blood centres should be concentrated instead at three locations in Leeds, Bristol, and London. Processing and testing of blood is to take place in fewer centres, with this type of work ceasing at five regional centres - Lancaster (by March 1996), Oxford, Cambridge, Liverpool (December 1997), and Plymouth (March 1998). However, these centres will not close altogether, as had been originally proposed, and will continue to supply a blood service and other specialist functions.

The Secretary of State said a new Blood Donors' Charter would underwrite the standards donors could expect from the service, and would provide a complaints procedure. A National User Group would ensure that hospital consultants were satisfied with the service.

Two new blood banks in south Lincolnshire and central London are to be added to the existing national network of 15 centres. Mr Dorrell said this would ensure all hospitals were in a position to receive emergency supplies within two hours. A new computer system would allow stocks to be better managed, with a national donor records database guaranteeing reliability and safety.