Pathology networks

We have been working with the 29 identified pathology networks, allowing for the transformation of pathology services across the country.

In 2017, we committed to consolidating pathology services in England by proposing 29 hub and spoke networks as analysis showed there is unwarranted variation in how NHS pathology services are delivered to patients because of how they are organised.

More recently, the ambition has widened to use these networks as a key enabler of ambitions outlined in the Long Term Plan.

We have been supporting providers to agree and implement networks. By bringing together clinical expertise, pathology services will become more efficient in order to deliver better value, high quality care for patients. As well as enhancing the careers of pathology staff, it will also improve the productivity of labs and how much they cost to run.

To date, over 97% of all trusts are making progress towards networking their pathology services and the programme is on track to deliver 29 pathology networks across England by the target date of 2021.

Analysis shows that the 105 hospitals in England which provide pathology services typically do 1.12 billion tests per year at a cost of £2.2 billion. The new pathology networks are expected to save the NHS at least £200 million pounds by 2020-2021.

  • Proposed pathology consolidation networks: Using this national data from acute non-specialist providers we have identified 29 potential pathology networks, allowing for the transformation of pathology services into a series of networks across the country.

What does this mean for providers?

We have been working closely with all NHS providers to help implement the network strategy. We now need all hospitals to accelerate their work with their local communities, and clinical staff to implement their networks by 2021, so patients can benefit from this better way of delivering these crucial services.

Our support offer

We continue to work with trusts and provide full support and guidance at every phase. We have created a template toolkit to support providers into implementation phase, enabling the pathology networks to become fully operational.

How will pathology networks improve patient care and outcomes, and deliver potential efficiencies?

For patients:

  • patients should receive quicker, more advanced and reliable screening test results for illnesses including cancer (under proposals aimed at improving how NHS pathology services are organised)
  • access to pathology services won’t change — core services will still remain in hospital labs
  • there will be an introduction of a new wave of genetics

Delivery of potential efficiencies:

  • under our proposals, the 122 individual pathology units within NHS Hospitals in England will join-up, and form a series of 29 networks
  • the new networks will bring together clinical expertise, ultimately making these services more efficient that deliver better value, high quality care for patients
  • enhance career opportunities for staff, whilst being more efficient, delivering projected savings of at least £200 million pounds by 2020-2021
  • early analysis shows that hospitals which have already started to implement their pathology network saved £33.6 million, with a further £30 million of savings predicted for 2018/19
“The NHS is aiming to significantly improve how we deliver 21st century pathology services. I would like to see all networks follow the lead of our trailblazers, so the NHS is able to offer patients high quality, faster tests at a lower cost.” Ian Dalton, Chief Executive, NHS Improvement

“Patients deserve excellent quality of care delivered at best value for the taxpayer which is why there is a real urgency to changing how we run our pathology services. Bringing services together into larger, more resilient and efficient networks will provide patients with better and faster access to innovative tests and investigations, and to receive their diagnoses quicker.

“Work to transform NHS pathology services is making excellent progress with support from across the service. However, there is still much to be done by hospitals to ensure the benefits for patients and the NHS is secured. We will continue to work with the hospitals on implementing this new way of working.” Dr Jeremy Marlow, Executive Director of Operational Productivity, NHS Improvement

“The implementation of pathology networks was a core recommendation of my 2016 review of hospital productivity, building on my earlier review of pathology services in 2008. It is thanks to Professor Tim Evans and his team, as well as trusts across the country, that change is now being delivered.

‘The NHS has the opportunity to deliver higher quality, more responsive testing services in all parts of the country and must do so rapidly.” Lord Carter of Coles, Non-Executive Director, NHS Improvement

“NHS pathology services play a crucial role in supporting patient care, and as Vice Chair of the group I have valued the focus on clinical care and workforce. As pathology networks form in this very complex healthcare environment, Professor Tim Evans’s patient focussed approach has been essential.” Professor Jo Martin

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