Thursday, 12 July 2007

Management announce review of strategy!

Following the Board meeting on July 5th, which NBS union reps lobbied once again, Chairman Bill Fullager released this letter to staff on July 10th.

Letter to staff

Dear colleagues,

As you know, NHSBT has made considerable progress in a number of areas since the NHSBT strategy was launched last November. The construction of Filton (on time and on budget), the increase in appointments for blood donors and the record numbers of organs available for transplantation are all tangible examples of this progress.

Given the importance of the service strategy to both patients and the NHS, and in the light of our discussions, with customers and colleagues over the past six months, the NHSBT Board has decided to hold a review of the assumptions underpinning the strategy and its planned changes. This review will be led by Clive Ronaldson, in his new role as interim managing director of the NBS.

The Board remains committed to the vision and set out in the service strategy announced last November. At the same time, we have acknowledged and listened to concerns expressed and issues raised by staff and customers about aspects of these plans. In instigating this review, the Board is seeking to ensure that proposed changes will deliver the greatest benefits to patients. Where the review demonstrates that changes to the strategy are warranted, these will be made.

This means that although some changes in the early phases of the NHSBT change programme will continue as planned, fundamental developments - such as changes to aspects of the current configuration of processing and testing facilities - will not begin until the review is complete.

You will, clearly, have questions about the review and its implications for you and your site. This decision has only just been made and we wanted to make you aware of developments as soon as possible. We are currently confirming the terms of the review and how it will work, in discussion with staff representatives, and will be in a position to give you further details, for example on the timescale, over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, we welcome your views. If you have any immediate queries, please talk to your line manager or send them to us via Connect.

With best wishes,

Bill Fullagar
10 July 2007

This is a massive breakthrough for the campaign! Until now the directors have flatly refused to consider any change to their proposals, no matter who from or how sensible. They have felt untouchable. For them to now put the brakes on and admit they are ready to think again about even small parts of the plans means the opposition is reaching a level that they cannot ignore. It can be no coincidence that this letter comes just after staff-side beginning steps for a ballot on industrial action. Bosses have seriously underestimated the staff's willingness to be pushed around and see the Blood Service they are proud of fall into a messy decline in the name of 'savings'.

With this knowledge to spur us on now is the time to carry on campaigning at full speed. Service users and patients still need a bigger say in the running of the NBS. This review shows that we can make sure that the policy-makers have no choice but to involve us all.

It's far from over! The future is still unwritten.


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Petition races past the 1000 post

Our online e-petition today crossed the 1000 signatures mark and shows no sign of slowing down.

If you haven't signed it yet then please do!
This way to add your voice

5 minutes

Although a petition on its own has limits in terms of causing change, every name represents a person who cares about the future of the Blood Service, and is opposed to the risky and illogical threatened changes. This is great for staff to see. Morale is very low and although support may be huge, it is hard to measure it and more often it feels like no eyes are watching. The NBS is a specialist wing of the NHS which doesn't grab many headlines or column inches. You can help to publicise our cause by sending the link for the petition to all your contacts.

Thanks for your support so far!


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Thursday, 5 July 2007

Invitation to the NBS Board Meeting 05/07/07

The National Blood Service Board of Directors meets today (Thursday 5th July) at the Bio Products Laboratory (BPL), Dagger Lane, Elstree, Hertfordshire, WD6 3BX.

You're paying for their buffet!

Until recently they preferred more central meeting points but lately this venue in the hard-to-reach backwaters of the commuter belt is their favourite. Less opportunity for embarrassing scenes of angry health workers.

Union reps will be attending from mid-morning to push on with efforts to stop the march of drastic reconfiguration. If you are in the area, you can demonstrate your support for the NBS staff, but even more excitingly, the Board meetings are legally 'public', so you could drop in and ask them to pull you up a chair...

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An attack on public services

The NHSBT management need encouragement to be honest about the future of the NBS as a public institution. Year by year commercialisation creeps into the Blood Service, and associated organisations like the Bio Products Laboratory. Managing Director Peter Garwood was questioned by a rep on a recent visit to a centre, on whether the NBS planned to sell off its in-house transport wing to private contractors. He admitted that this had not been ruled out as an option.

Profit-seeking private firms are like vultures circling the NHS, and whenever they make inroads, they destroy the service for patients and staff alike. Look at ward cleaning nowadays for example, or the chaos in the provision of oxygen to patients. This vital lifeline was sold to a US corporation with a dodgy financial record, and within weeks a woman had died when her oxygen failed to be delivered in time. Opposing privatisation is not only an ethical matter, it makes sense for the safety and wellbeing of those whose lives hang in the balance.

This restructuring strategy is dressed up as modernisation, but it is a warning sign for future dangerous steps backwards. Centralisation is recognised as one of the early stages in the move towards privatisation. NBS staff are well aware of this, and like health workers everywhere, oppose it. We want to protect the integrity of our Blood Service so that we can all rely on it in the future.


The plans roll into practice - worse shifts for less money!

The first stage of the strategy involves Birmingham and Southampton donor testing labs closing in December 2007 and their work transferring down to Bristol. This will be the current Southmead site as the supercentre at Filton is still mud and girders. It is madness to expect a lab already operating at full capacity to take on two extra centres' workload. The staff will suffer the brunt of the effects of this overstretch.


There is a shortage of state-registered bio-medical scientists at Southmead. This will create problems when taking holidays or covering sickness and training requirements.
Unions say the proposed new shift patterns are seriously flawed. In-keeping with all of this strategy there is contradiction, waste of labour and lack of solid contingency planning. Illogical deadlines will cause periods of intense pressure followed by ‘dead time’.
Bristol testing staff will face many more early starts, which could be avoided if directors properly consulted staff-side about best working patterns. There is little flexibility available for parents or those reliant on public transport. This also comes at a time when health workers’ payments for Unsocial Hours are under threat. Unions believe NBS management may be trying to sidestep Agenda for Change protection of Unsocial Hours payments, as the wording describing an interim transition period says ‘existing arrangements continue undisturbed’.

It is important that the views of experienced health staff are listened to at this point, as the progress in the Midlands and South-West zone will be a template for the rest of the country. Bristol testing must not be railroaded into an unsuitable or unworkable shift system.

Here is a resolution passed unanimously by Amicus in Testing, Colindale.

Resolution on Proposed Shift System for Testing in Bristol

Staff in Colindale Testing Department view the proposed Working Patterns and Staffing Structure for Testing at Bristol Southmead with deep concern.

We are concerned about:

(a) the effect which these proposals, if implemented, will have on the lives of our colleagues in Bristol, Birmingham and Southampton.

(b) the probability that whatever is implemented in the Midlands and South West will shortly afterwards be implemented in the North and in London and the South East.

(c) the 6.00 a.m. start, which would be impossible for parents of young children or for staff who travel to work by public transport.

(d) the week-day shifts taking place at four different times of day, the latest ending at 11.00 p.m., plus a different two-shift pattern at week-ends, with consequent large changes in sleep patterns and meal-times that will affect the health of staff.

(e) the inclusion of 46 working days, instead of the normal 45, in the 9 weeks, and the 5 days per year to be used as a contingency, which taken together would give staff an extra 11 working days per year, when they would travel to work in their own time and at their own expense.

(f) the Saturday working, which would be difficult for parents of young children and for those who travel to work by train, (because the engineering work on the tracks is done at week-ends), and would also discriminate against some religious groups.

(g) the staffing structure, which would approximately halve the number of Biomedical Scientists in Testing in the Midlands and South West, leaving an inadequate number of state registered staff to cope with the workload.

(h) the probability that the training week would actually be used to cover staff shortages.

(i) the shortening of the tea-breaks to 2 X 15 minutes, when the present 20 minute breaks at Colindale are sometimes inadequate because of the queue in the tea-room.

We find the proposals inconsistent with the aims of Improving Working Lives, and believe that the NHSBT will not get the best possible work out of staff who are unable to arrange good care for their children and whose own health is suffering from the weekly changes in their working patterns.

We call upon the management to consider the following changes to their proposals:

* Keeping Processing and Testing at more than three sites, thereby reducing the necessity for very long opening hours at each site.
* The earliest starting time to be about 8.00 a.m., except where staff request to be allowed to start earlier,
* People with responsibility for young children to be allowed an earliest start time of 9.00 a.m. to fit their child-care arrangements.
* The employment of staff on fixed hours, some working always in the mornings and others always at later times, which would give them a better work-life balance, would not upset their biological clocks and would enable them to do better work.
* Keeping to a working week of 5 days of 7hrs 30mins each.
* Avoiding Saturday working by extra work on Fridays and Mondays, as happens at present in Colindale.
* Protecting training by employing more staff, including supernumerary trainers.

We pledge our total support to fellow members in Bristol.

If there is any attempt to impose the structure and hours in the Consultation Document on members at Bristol, we will request Amicus to ballot the members in all the Testing laboratories in the NBS for united industrial action.

Passed unanimously by Amicus members, Testing Department, NBS Colindale,
4th July 2007

Here is a resolution passed unanimously by Amicus in testing, Manchester.

Resolution on proposed shifts at Bristol

Testing staff at Manchester view the propposal tabled to the Bristol testing staff with deep concern and anger.

Anything agreed at Bristol has clear implifications for us and also staff at Colindale.

The hours are not easy to work, in particular the 6 am start and Saturday evening working, and are potentially discriminatory.

The staffing structure is inadequate to cope with such a workload; in particular there is a dire shortage of state registered staff with the only new posts being in the lower grades of Band 2, 3 and 4.

Also the 6 day weeks to cover Saturdays and the 5 days “banked” to cover Bank Holidays and weekends are totally unacceptable and not the best way to cover the work.

The combination of extra late, weekend and Bank Holiday working, the extra number of days worked per year, and the very early starts, make the whole system very family-unfriendly and incompattible with the avowed aims of IWL [Improving Working Lives].

Any such discussions should not form part of the SW redundancy discussion but should be a proper national negotiation with input from all affected sites.

In any case the only reason to work such anti-social shifts is to allow the NBS to close other Centres, making colleagues in other Centres redundant; if the NBS keeps a sensible number of PTI sites there will be no need to move to such extreme shifts.

We therefore call on the NBS to halt the strategy which centralises all donor testing work on just three sites.

We pledge our total support to fellow members in Bristol.

If there is any attempt to impose this structure and these hours on members at Bristol we will request Amicus to ballot the members in Manchester, Colindale and Bristol for united industrial action.

Passed unanimously by Amicus members, Testing department, Manchester Blood Centre, 14th June 2007

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Press coverage

First up is a mention of the first redundancies to hit the NBS due to the centralisation strategy, on Friday 22nd June:

(Socialist Worker, 30th June 2007)

Sandra will be sadly missed in the Blood Service

Birmingham staff marked the leaving of these colleagues with a public vigil to demonstrate that any and every job loss in the service will be remembered and felt.
Solidarity vigil

A topical letter to the Birmingham Mail, responding to a report on the progress of the new 'super' hospital in Edgbaston. This massive complex could have a fully functioning blood centre right on its doorstep, but, if directors get their way, instead it will be left with a glorified fridge, and the opportunity for medics to access the great expertise of the NBS specialists could be lost.

(Birmingham Mail, 2nd July 2007)


Building this webpage

This is a blog written by rank and file NBS workers, straight from the horse’s mouth. We want to get our side of the story across without being shouted down by management, as often happens in the media, or waiting for remote national union officers to give a watered down version of how we are feeling and what we are doing.


Please help to make this an accurate and in-depth resource, by contributing. This blog is for us and by us!

* Reports are needed from staff from all across the NHS Blood and Transplant sector. Lab workers badly need stronger links with donor carers, transport, office staff and any other colleagues, including blood bank technicians in hospitals. We are divided at the moment but it doesn’t have to stay like this. How are you and your workmates feeling about the strategy? What action is being organised at your centre?

* If you get any articles or letters into the papers, scan the clipping and email it to the address below (jpeg format if possible) and we will get it up online.

* Supporters of the campaign - if you write to management or your MP and get any interesting replies they will be good to add to the blog as well.

* All are welcome to use the comments section as a message board/forum facility, for example for asking questions, suggesting ideas, or sending messages of solidarity and encouragement to staff.

* If you would like to go onto a mailing list to be informed of updates to the blog, contact the blog email address. (We will not pass your email to any spammer scum, neither will we clog up your inbox with unrelated mail you have not requested!)

Submit your content to: nbs.sos[AT]
(replace [AT] with @)


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Sunday, 1 July 2007

Are you a union shop steward or rep in the Blood Service?

If so here is a suggestion for you.

Communication between centres in different areas, and between lab staff and donor facing staff is almost non-existent. This is bad for several reasons.

It can feel that we are all isolated from one another in our separate regions. The only 'contact' many of us have with each other is when photos of our protests are emailed around and properly cascaded by hardworking and effective staff reps. Even then the large number of NBS staff who can't easily access computers and email (such as drivers and donor carers) are left out of the loop.

In reality we are one big workforce but the vast gulf between labs and donor carers makes it feel like we work for entirely different employers. Some collection teams are actually unaware of the full scale of proposed restructuring and its effects, despite national union officers claiming that all members and reps are being kept informed of the staff-side campaign in opposition. All centres have submitted cases for their own labs to be saved - implying at the expense of other centres - but we could take a more positive unified stance. It is not too late for us to put up a successful grassroots union resistance.

Our message will be communicated to the public louder if we work together and in an organised, co-ordinated way. Previous successes in defending our Liverpool centre were won by staff and reps tirelessly mounting a huge campaign to hog the media spotlight. More importantly, a combined fight from all staff will give us strength from each other. Solidarity and mutual support can help to beat the low morale, defeatism and exhaustion which is rife across us all who are trying to save the service.

In the absence of an external message board for us to use at this moment (NBS intranet forums can be read by management), the suggestion is that all union reps across the NBS sign up as users of the TUC's unionreps notice board. from the TUC

It is free to use, and will make it easier for us to keep in touch and discuss the campaign, as well as access much valuable advice for reps on disputes and organising in general. Hope to see you on there!

Maybe you are a member of staff reading this who is not a union rep but would like to be? There is no such thing as too many. Speak to your local steward.

Another useful link for reps wanting to build stronger organisation across the Blood Service and beyond

You are the...

Post your comments and ideas below...

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How YOU can get involved!

Staff, supporters and union reps have constantly been working to spread the message in all ways possible about the threatened strategy and our opposition. We have written to the media, lobbied MPs both locally and at the Houses of Parliament, spoken at trade union meetings and conferences, and networked extensively with other health campaigners.

Cutting the cards, Manchester 5
Manchester staff working the media

B'ham Street Stall
One of many Saturday street stalls in Birmingham city centre

Spreading the word
Speaking about the cuts and the campaign against them at Birmingham Trades Council's May Day rally

However there can never be enough of this campaigning activity!
Most people, both medical workers and the general public, are still unaware of the proposals for the NBS, which makes it harder for us to fight them. All of us are potential recipients of freely donated blood. Donors are altruistic people and have a keen interest in the whole transfusion process. They are now being disrespectfully excluded.

You can help our cause directly by adding to the pressure put on the policy makers, and raising awareness of the threatened cuts on our behalf.

* Please tell everyone you know about the threatened centralisation and job cuts in the Blood Service. If you have a website add a link to this page.
* Please write to or phone the local and national media: newspapers, television stations and radio stations.
* Sign our online petition and forward the link onto all your contacts.
* Please write to your MP expressing concern about how your local hospital will be affected by the cuts.
So far MPs have been fobbed off, by NBS management propaganda, from fully joining our campaign against the strategy. However constant letters from constituents about this topic can only make them more likely to call for at least a halt to the restructuring, to allow for real and meaningful consultation.
Use this link to easily contact your MP
* Trade union branches please pass a resolution in support of the NBS workers' campaign, and in opposition to the reconfiguration strategy.
* Future protests will be announced on this blog - please support them in person if you are able to get down to one of the centres near you.
* Leaflets can be downloaded for distribution from the links panel on the right-hand side of this page.
* Finally, if you feel strongly about saving the Blood Service, why not make your feelings known to our boss, Chief Executive Clive Ronaldson?
It may seem pointless but opinions from donors and recipients of blood are valued more than those of staff. Plus it creates extra annoying work if he comes in each morning to a fresh pile of irritated letters and emails on the same subject. Be prepared to wait for a response - and mentally psyche yourself up for the 'everything will be fine' official corporate-speak.

Clive Ronaldson
Managing Director
National Blood Service
Oak House
Read’s Crescent
Hertfordshire WD24 4PH

(replace [AT] with @)

Thanks to all for their support so far.
Post your comments and ideas below...

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Open letter from staff-side to NBS management

This letter was presented to the NHSBT board of directors in early June, officially declaring the unions' intention to ballot NBS members on national industrial action against the proposed strategy.

Open letter to the NHSBT board

Staff side statement

We the staff side are extremely concerned with the direction the directors and senior management are taking this organisation as a result of the proposed change strategy.

It must be acknowledged that scientific staff, particularly those under 40, have left, are leaving or are considering leaving the organisation and as time moves on the ability of the existing centres to maintain their current working practices will be based purely on the age pattern of the staff in each department and centre.

This will be repeated in the RCI labs as closure of their departments draws nearer. This is a direct result of the strategy and plans announced 6 months ago.
We could soon be in a position where having 3 testing centres is the only available option left. All of the other centres would have become unable to maintain their current working practices having insufficient staffing levels to carry out the testing. The service would be left in serious jeopardy especially as the remaining centres would also have insufficient numbers of staff to take on extra work at short notice.

There appears to be a cavalier attitude from the senior management to the staff sides’ response to the strategy. There is very little support for the strategy from managers and staff side as well as the Office of Government and Commerce who have also expressed the same concerns over the issues of staff leaving and the possibility that the service will be unable to maintain its current service level agreements. How is the organisation going to carry out this restructuring without failing hospitals, patients and the staff.

The staff side have responded to the strategy and reiterated our position, that 3 processing and 3 testing sites is not the answer, and we urge the senior managers and directors to make changes to the strategy while the is still time so that we can maintain our existing services to both hospitals and patients.

As a result the staff side give notice that unless there is a significant change in the strategy the staff side will have no option but to ballot the membership on the basis that there has been no meaningful consultation and that there is a need to protect the services we currently provide.

Aussie Red Cross advert

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The fightback campaign so far

The National Blood Service is divided into 3 geographical zones: Midlands and South West, London and South East, and Northern.

NBS directors announced the strategy first in the Midlands and South West, several months ahead of the rest of the country. We feel that this was a deliberate tactic to test the waters of opposition before fully rolling it out nationally.

Although unions began negotiation with management at once, the public profile of the campaign against centralisation was not raised highly enough at this crucial stage.
Shellshocked staff were let down by the lack of communication between blood centres and the failure of the unions' leadership to go all out to make a fuss in the media. We have learnt lessons from our slow start to the campaign, and now that the restructuring plans apply across all zones, we must work hard to make up for the lost time when awareness could have been better raised.

Staff repeatedly attended meetings of the NBS board of directors, to protest, speak directly with executives, and submit well-reasoned counter-proposals. Staff-side reps spent hours researching and costing alternatives to just three supercentres, but these were without exception disregarded as the Board has stubbornly railroaded ahead with their precious flagship strategy.

Lobbying the board 2
Staff and reps at an NBS board meeting in Elstree

A petition was launched from the start of the campaign, with signatures collected on public street stalls. We already have several 1000s of names, of friends, family, fellow health workers, and the public, who support us.
Please sign our online e-petition now!

NBS staff held united national demonstrations on February 14th (symbolically chosen as Valentine's Day) which received good media coverage.

Sheffield Valentine's demo
Sheffield blood centre's Valentine's Day protest

Leeds Valentine's 2
Leeds blood centre's Valentine's Day protest

Further protests followed at all centres on June 15th 2007, one day after World Blood Donor Day, a final warning to management that staff would not meekly accept their reckless slashing of the Blood Service.

B'ham demo (15th June) 4
The message is loud and clear from Birmingham blood centre

Watch the film of NBS Birmingham's demo

For many more pictures of our campaign in action please see the links table to the right of the page.

After months of fruitless negotiating, bosses have arrogantly not accepted any alteration to their proposal from staffside. This has forced the unions to move into the unwelcome phase of balloting staff for industrial action. Amicus (now part of Unite) have already carried out one preliminary ballot of their technical lab staff to consult them on their willingness to take action. 81% voted in favour. Now all of the unions involved will be starting the legal ballot process again, together.

The situation for emergency workers in dispute is always difficult and they often feel that their position is weakened because withdrawal of labour will cost lives. This decision is never taken lightly. The Government and health bosses take advantage of this difficulty to force through damaging changes to our NHS. With public support this strategy can be shown up as what it is: bullying. As such it cannot be condoned. Any problems that result from a dispute are fundamentally caused by the Government pushing skilled workers into a position where they must defend the service with the only effective means at their disposal. Any problems caused by such action will pale into insignificance when these local centres disappear. Unions and staff will ensure that vital cover is provided to serve patients. The whole point of taking action is to defend the service from cuts, and make sure blood continues to get through to those who need it.

See next post for the unions' open letter to the NHSBT board of directors on industrial action.


What are the plans - and why are they a threat?

Staff have been in industrial dispute with the NBS board of directors/management for many months now, over an unworkable reconfiguration strategy. It is proposed that all local processing and testing labs be closed, and their functions condensed into just three 'supercentres' to serve the whole of England and North Wales, in Bristol, Manchester and Colindale.

The rationale for this plan is a short-sighted financial one. The strategy was boasted about in the Financial Times before it was even announced to affected staff. Directors are justifying centralisation because the demand from hospitals for red cells is currently falling, while the cost of each pack of red cells is rising. It suits them to assume this projected decline in demand will continue, despite an aging UK population and looming threats such as a flu pandemic. Other service areas that we provide, like platelets and transplants, are growing, but this seems to be ignored to fit with the market-minded strategy.

A study for respected journal Vox Sanguinis by Dr. A Pereira found that larger blood processing and testing centres do not necessarily lead to economies of scale.
Link here - registration needed for full text, but overview available to all.

We say that patients' welfare should be our number one concern, not tightening the purse strings to win praise from the Department of Health.

The National Blood Service is in fact a financially successful and efficient part of the NHS, which, unlike many health Trusts, is not in debt. The management proposals are purely based on cost-cutting and speculation by accountants. Our bosses have no problem with spending undisclosed thousands of taxpayers' money on parasitic external consultancy agencies.

The NBS directors plan to make overall 600 staff - half of the laboratory workforce - redundant. They claim this will save the service millions. (Surprisingly, just before the strategy was announced, around 50 new high level Band 7 posts were created, which cost the NBS £1.9 million in salaries.) These are highly specialised and skilled staff, many of whom have worked for the NBS for decades, and have never worked anywhere else. Opportunities for transfer to the new supercentres or suitable redeployment elsewhere in the crisis-stricken NHS are few and far between.

The new supercentres will be huge factories running on harsh anti-social 24 hour shift rotas to cope with the workload. At each site the NBS will have to wastefully recruit and train new workers, having just thrown the existing loyal workforce onto the scrapheap.

There are fears about road congestion delaying the smooth flow of products around the country. Our ability to respond in case of major incident could be compromised. There will be no south-east centre outside the M25, no centre at all north of London to the east of the Pennines, and no centre for the West Midlands (including the diverse needs of the second city, Birmingham). Police figures back up staff concerns about jams on long south-west transport routes. Blood collections from local mobile sessions and permanent donor centres would have to be driven hundreds of miles around the country to and from the supercentres, putting even more reliance on an already overloaded and frequently clogged up motorway network, and shortening the life-span of the products. The same would apply for patients' samples, increasing the risk of them being misplaced, wrongly stored or wrongly labelled.

Although the NBS vehicle fleet has been commended for its use of green fuel, adding to traffic volume is bad for the environment. Consider the effects of a major road traffic accident. There will be people needing blood which cannot be delivered because of the traffic chaos caused by the same accident. The suggestion of transporting blood by helicopter in an emergency is ludicrous - they have to be crewed and maintained which would be an impossible cost.

The official line is that services which need to be close to hospitals will stay there, like the issue blood banks. Staff believe otherwise. A patient died this week waiting to be rushed a 'washed' platelet from the local centre. 'Washing' is just one of many special processes done by the components lab - which is being centralised. 40% of samples crossmatched by our special investigations department (on-call day and night, 365 days a year) are classed as 'emergency'.

Staff do not believe that centralisation will make the Blood Service more efficient. We know best, not managers, the day-to-day and hour-to-hour needs of our hospitals and patients. We have good working relationships with our users, and essential local knowledge. Hospitals could be forced to spend more on training their own haematology staff, larger storage capacity and reagents for their own testing.
Despite what the directors say, neither employees or service users have had any meaningful input into the strategy - the service's future is being dictated to us all from on high.

B'ham NBS banner

For more information you can contact iww.nbs[AT] (replace [AT] with @)

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