Closure of London’s last Blood Testing Lab in Colindale puts lives at risk


The NHS Blood & Transplant (NHSBT) management board have announced the closure of the routine blood testing department at their centre in Colindale and its transfer to Filton near Bristol. The closure of the Colindale department will mean that no routine Testing Laboratory exists in London and the south east of England.

Once blood is collected from a donor, it is sent for testing and screening in one of these centres. Under the reorganisation all samples for routine testing will need to be transported to Filton and the results returned to Colindale, within a limited time period.

After receiving an official briefing form NHSBT management, Andrew Dismore AM  met staff who  expressed serious concern regarding the ability of NHSBT to maintain the supply of urgent blood products from donors such as extracted white blood cells for seriously  ill cancer patients, which must  be processed and used within 24 hours of the original blood donation.

Due to the diverse ethnic makeup of London, blood screening from donors within the London area are more challenging to screen, for example for sickle cell patients. The only two other centres in the country at Filton and  at Manchester do not share the expertise and experience of staff in Colindale.

There are also more general risks, from communication problems in  physically taking the samples to Filton from all overLondon, with risks from bad weather in winter, to motorway problems. There are further risks, in sending the results back through computer links, if those links are disrupted.

Labour London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore said:

“I am far from convinced that NHSBT’s reorganisation and closure of the routing Testing department in Colindale is a wise move. The savings are small compared to the risk. How can a major city likeLondon, with a hugely diverse population be without a routine Testing Laboratory. The move of all routine testing for South East England toBristolcreates a greater window of risk. Patients with serious diseases and conditions like cancer awaiting urgent transfusions will be put  at risk by this move.

I have written to the senior managment at NHS Blood and Transplant to express my serious reservations and I will be raising this with the Mayor of London at the next question time, to see what he will do to maintain the service so important to Londoners.”


Letter to NHSBT Management:

Dear Mr Wenham,

Thank you for briefing me yesterday on your proposed transfer of testing services from Colindale to Filton. Whilst I understand the financial pressures you are under as a result of government policy, I remain concerned about aspects of your plan.

Can I firstly raise the issue of certain urgent products, like white cells, which I am informed have to be used within 24 hours of donation. This is relevant to a small number of patients, but those who are critically ill, for example cancer sufferers. The present performance at Colindale ensures availability by 10.30am usually in practice by 10am. Your proposals provide for results to return by 2pm, you told me. This seems to reduce the window for usage dramatically and riskily for this product.

There is also the question of specialist screening done at Colindale, for rare blood types, for example for sickle cell sufferers. I understand that other centres have not been able to match Colindale’s performance, especially given the diversity of donation inLondonand how can you be sure that Filton will be able to do so and have the capacity?

As far as contingency planning is concerned, the suggestion I understand from your briefing was to move products fromManchester, but what about rare types, where the ethnic diversity inManchesterdoes not reflect that inLondon?

We discussed concerns about communications between Filton andLondon. I understand that in the last winter, there were incidents where deliveries toBrentwoodfrom Colindale were not achieved due to the snow. I am also concerned about the risk of computer failure in terms of transmitting the test results from Filton to Colindale, for which there does not seem to be a back up plan, in the event that electronic links are broken for any reason.

Are your savings projections of £1m robust, as I understand that projected savings from similar transfers elsewhere have not been achieved? In particular, I understand that at present 10 members of staff are engaged in bacterial monitoring and the proposal is to reduce this to 5.6 whole time equivalent. Also, I am concerned to hear that there has been a growth in managerial staff at director and assistant director level, which has eaten into finances and could undermine savings.

Finally, what assurances can you give about the long term future of the remainder of the service at Colindale?

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Dismore

LabourLondonAssembly Member for Barnet and Camden