PATIENTS fear they could be left waiting longer for urgent blood test results if plans to move a service 88 miles away to Bedford go ahead.

The regional health authority NHS East of England is proposing to move pathology services - screening blood samples - to a centralised base via Harlow rather than the current local laboratory system.

GPs have already raised their concerns that the move will leave patients facing long waits for the tests taken locally, but sent away for analysis.

The Local Medical Committee has written to all doctors, urging them to make their views clear as it believes the current system – which it describes as excellent – does not need to change.

Paul Saunders chairman of cancer support group Lymphona Support For You expressed his concerns.

Patients with certain types of lymphoma blood cancers need regular tests to check antibody levels and decide on sometime daily treatments, radiotherapy or blood transfusions required.

Mr Saunders said: ”I’m astounded there has been no consultation, I’ve not heard of this until now.

“If there are improvements in a service then Ive never known anyone keep quiet about it. It looks like things are coming in through the back door and It smacks of trying to save money.

“This is a worry - how is it going to work? It can only lead to delays in results. Speed is essential in the treatment of some lymphomas. This is a backwards step.”

A Southend GP, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Patient care will suffer; the current system works well and is comprehensive. We have got a good rapport with the pathology service/ technicians /consultants and we can contact them easily. The service is quick and reliable.

“There will be 4000 samples per day from Essex to Bedford - along the M25 - by the time the samples reach the lab we often would have results available from our current provider - Southend Hospital.”

They added it would mean more problems when medics compare results from the community (outpatient results) with hospital (inpatient results) blood results to identify trends.

It is understood four journeys a day will be made to Bedford with increased transport costs. There are also concerns about potential job losses.

John Gibson is chairman of the Asset Trust set up in response to the threat of moving cancer services from Southend to a cancer centre in Romford in the mid Eighties.

The trust continues to buy and permanently load the latest technology and equipment to Southend currently it loans 271 pieces of equipment at a book value of £1.3million.

Mr Gibson said: “We’ve spent  20 years putting the latest technology in to Southend including in the pathology labs and to see people be put at risk with these proposals is lunatic by any standard.

“Currently the pathologists can have blood tests within minutes and results as quick as an hour.

“How long is it all going to take driving them to Harlow  then sent up to Bedford and somehow getting the results back?

“It  is dangerous and prone to all sorts of problems not least with communication and traffic delays. I’m absolutely furious about it. All our hard work is being torpedoed by some crackpot scheme. It can only lead to disaster and ultimately a coroner’s court when something goes wrong.”