Vital organ donation procedures could be hit by the proposed closure of the specialist toxicology service at St Thomas' Hospital, trade union representatives have warned.
A private sector pathology company, GSTS – recently formed by Serco with two NHS foundation trusts – is set to close a specialist toxicology service which is the sole provider of vital tests in the South East.
The Unite union claims that the nearest alternative laboratories for some procedures would be Birmingham, Cardiff and Sheffield.
The St Thomas' Hospital unit now employs seven specialist toxicology scientists with more than 120 years of experience between them and staff have been given 30 days notice that the centre is to close.
Unite's head of health Rachael Maskell said: "We believe that the closure of this internationally-renowned toxicology service is a result of the government's privatisation policy. Private companies are only interested in services that will make them profit, not in their life-saving clinical value.
"We now face the terrible prospect that vital organ life-saving procedures could be jeopardised by the closure of this specialist centre – the only one in the South East. The claim made by David Cameron that the NHS is safe in Tory hands is in tatters."
"Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley should step in immediately to block this closure as it threatens patient welfare."
Rachael Maskell pointed out that the service has not been allowed to review its costs since 2006 and that many of its money-making services, such as the advisory service have been separated off from the main business.
Rachael Maskell added: "It's insane that a vital service is being shut and that staff are being made redundant at a cost of over £680,000 because this does not fit in with the business aims of the private sector."
The medical toxicology laboratory was established in 1963 at Guy's Hospital and up until it moved to its present site at St Thomas' in 2007 ran tests requested by some 14 countries and featured in the Channel 4 series Poisoned in 1999.
A GSTS Pathology spokesman told the London SE1 website: "GSTS is currently consulting with its staff in the toxicology department which is based at St Thomas' Hospital about potential changes to the service. This consultation will last for a period of 30 days.
"GSTS can not comment on specific proposals whilst in consultation with its staff.
"GSTS has substantial toxicology services at Kings College Hospital and part of this consultation is to consider rationalising some of the services. Patient safety and quality of service remains GSTS's main priority.
"No decision has been taken regarding the closure of any services at the present time."