Why the secrecy over who will be running Leamington's Covid 'Mega-Lab'?
Protesters fear the new laboratory is a 'Trojan Horse for privatisation'
Questions are still being asked about the future Leamington's Covid 'Mega-Lab' - and who will be running it.
Back in May we asked the Government to explain why the site (off Tachbrook Road/Queensway) has still not been built, after promises that it would be up and running in the springtime, following earlier promises that it would be ready in January.
But employees have still been left in limbo - and health campaigners are worried that the new laboratory is a 'Trojan Horse for privatisation'.
The Department of Health and Social Care told us in May that the site would be "publicly owned and will be operated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as part of the NHS Test and Trace laboratory network".
But employees have been told that the Mega-lab would be run by a private company, Medacs, and staff have been recruited by private firms.
In March, staff were being recruited by Sodexo, and now by Impellam.
One employee told us: "The DHSC said that the lab “is not and will not be privately owned or operated” which is I believe is not true.
"I won’t even be rewarded with an NHS pension or perks like the Blue Light scheme (if I even start work at all).
"To say we have been left in limbo is entirely accurate."
"There was no explanation of why the new lab could not be run by the Coventry and Warwickshire Pathology Service (CWPS) – the NHS network of laboratories hosted by University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust which provides a comprehensive service to the Coventry and Warwickshire hospitals and GPs," said a spokesperson for the group.
"Why isn’t the new Mega-Lab part of this accredited and safe NHS system?
"Instead it’s part of the £37 billion ‘test and trace’ system."
They point to a job advertisement for the Mega-Lab which states that workers 'will be employed on a fixed term employment basis with an Employing Agency within the Impellam Group and not directly employed by NHS Test and Trace'.
It added: "Employing Agencies belonging to the Impellam Group include SRG, Medacs, Lorien and Blue Arrow. Contractual employment terms and conditions will be set out by the Employing Agency."
"There is no mention of NHS terms and conditions, NHS pensions, or recognition by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, which certifies, tests and inspects laboratories," said the SWKONP group.
"The secrecy, the obvious role of private contractors in recruiting the staff, the decision to keep the Mega-Lab separate from the local NHS and the bypassing of the professional body and the trade unions gives real grounds for concern that another privatised fiasco is under way.
"We call on Boris Johnson’s Government for the Mega-Lab to be turned over to local NHS Pathology services to continue to provide all diagnostic services, and to receive the investment required to expand Covid-19 and other diagnostics, in order to maintain their essential role in contributing to optimal provision of patient care."
Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western will be joining the SWKONP group when they hold a stall outside Leamington Town Hall on July 3, 11am - 1pm, to commemorate the NHS 73rd anniversary.
He has been investigating the Mega-Lab for months and says he 'wholeheartedly shares the concerns of South Warwickshire Keep Our NHS Public'.
The MP was granted a meeting with representatives of the lab last week which he described as 'helpful' - "but am still awaiting adequate answers to many questions," he added.
“Let me be clear, I would be much more comfortable if the lab was run through the NHS Pathology Service, if they had not enlisted private companies and if it was fully accountable and transparent – which is, regrettably, not the case," he said.
“I welcome that representatives have made efforts to respond to my concerns, finally.
“But now we need guarantees there won’t be any downsizing of the project, it will still create the 1,800 jobs promised and staff will receive pay and conditions aligned with NHS standards.
“It must also serve as an adjunct to pre-existing NHS services without undermining them – which I have already received assurances about.
“I also want guarantees that staff from a clinical, preferably NHS-trained, background are involved with operation of the site – and not just expensive business consultants.”
We have once again put our own questions to the Department of Health and Social Care and asked them to respond to the claims in this article but we have not heard back from them.