Lab closure could delay health tests

Testing for dangerous pathogens like salmonella, listeria, or legionella, could be delayed for Fylde coast residents if a lab is closed, it has been claimed.

Thursday, 10th March 2016, 9:54 am
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2016, 9:56 am
Aerial view RPH Royal preston hospital fulwood

If Public Health England (PHE)’s Food, Water and Environmental lab, based at Royal Preston Hospital, is closed, the testing for dangerous pathogens like salmonella or listeria, or legionella, could be delayed for Fylde coast residents, it has been claimed.

Some 19 jobs are under threat, with a final decision expected later this month, PHE said. The proposal, which would also see a lab in Birmingham closed, would put the public at risk, union Unite has claimed.

The regional secretary responsible for PHE, Dorothy Fogg, said: “Any delay because of these two closures in analysing results could pose a problem to the public health.

“Three years ago there were about 19 labs all around the country.

“These have been reduced to five and with the proposed closure of another two, it will mean lots of travel, if not for the people collecting the samples then for the samples themselves.

“This is a major blow for food, water, and environmental hygiene.”

Health protection nurse Shelagh Snape said – in Blackpool Council documents – the lab, which covers the North West, is earmarked for closure.

She said: “Samples from the north will go either to Manchester or York. Hopefully the transportation arrangements for samples being put in place will mean the sender should see little difference in the service. It may have impact on speed though.”

A spokesman for PHE said: “We have consulted staff and partners on proposals to change the configuration of the Food, Water and Environmental service by reducing the number of specialist laboratories from five to three, while maintaining the same high level of service and quality standards across the country.

“We are currently reviewing a range of options and hope to reach a final decision by mid-March.”

Public Health England did not say how many jobs could be affected.

The lab, which covers Lancashire, Cumbria, Cheshire, Merseyside and Manchester, carries out tests for councils, port health authorities, the NHS, and commercial companies.

PHE said its five current labs ‘protect the public from significant health threats associated with food, water, and environmental hazards’.

As well as carrying out general tests on food, it also handles samples of water from swimming and spa pools, tests water supplies for legionella, and supports investigations of outbreaks.

Staff there offer expert advice and train staff from local authorities, and carry out research and development into emerging and evolving diseases.

PHE is also considering closing its Birmingham branch as it looks to save £1m, it was reported.

Its other labs are in London and at Porton Down in Wiltshire.