Every acute hospital in Northern Ireland will have 24-hour pathology services vital to the diagnosis of patients under new Government plans for hospital laboratories.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey today announced his final recommendations for the future of hospital laboratory services which have a crucial role for doctors in diagnosing what is wrong with patients and how best to treat them.
A report on such services containing 23 recommendations was published for public consultation last November. Today's announcement includes amendments to a number of the recommendations in light of representations made to the Department during the consultation process.
Key recommendations now include:
all acute hospitals will have 24 hour biochemistry and haematology (blood) services;
microbiology will be provided on a 24 hour basis in Altnagelvin and in Belfast;
histopathology and cytopathology services will continue to be provided in Belfast, Antrim, Craigavon and Altnagelvin pending a further review of these specialities in three years' time.
one single laboratory service is recommended for Belfast, operating on a 24-hour basis and providing clinical biochemistry, haematology and blood transfusion, microbiology, histopathology, cytopathology and the regional pathology services.
Laboratory services such as biochemistry, haematology and cytopathology are used to study parts of patient cells, tissues, bodily fluids such as blood and other microganisms or viruses to establish what could be wrong.
They can also pin-point the best treatment, prognosis and prevention.
The Minister said: "Hospital laboratory services play a critical role in ensuring patients receive the best possible care.
"Often the work done by the 1,000 staff working in our laboratory services is invisible to patients but without their skill and expertise, the health service would be unable to deliver the quality of care and treatment that we all expect."
Around three-quarters of all diagnoses in hospital depend on the availability of pathology tests. Many thousands of tests are also conducted each month for GPs.
Mr McGimpsey said: "It is clear that demand for laboratory services is increasing as is the demand for pathologists to contribute more directly in patient care."
Mr McGimpsey also confirmed that hospital laboratories must achieve nationally recognised accreditation standards to ensure the quality of services provided to patients.