Four NHS trusts in the Black Country are looking to create a multi-million pound single pathology service, with a common laboratory information system (LIMS) which is deemed critical to the success of the project.

The Outline Business Case for the project, revealed in Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust August board papers, proposes a ‘hub and spoke’ option with a linked IT system.

A shake-up of pathology services was called from Lord Carter, in his 2008 review. It recommended that IT connectivity should be prioritised alongside the creation of the hub and spoke model.

The shared LIMS would run across Walsall, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

The report says the overall pathology spend would be about £708 million over the next decade, with estimated savings of more than £65 million.

The shared IT is critical to the success of the service, says the report, “a modern, secure, single LIMS is deemed vital for the collaboration”.

Motivation behind the project includes high profile LIMS failures, including the pathology blow-out at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust. The crash saw 143 non-urgent procedures postponed, regional blood services disrupted and parts of electronic microbiology systems knocked out for more than two months in September 2016.

The May WannaCry cyber-attacks also demonstrated the need for stable LIMs. The report said the malware attack “left a number of pathology services crippled, and reliant on paper for the operations of their laboratories”.

Out of seven options proposed in the report, the preferred was of the hub and spoke model. The central site would be at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital and the other trusts having their own emergency service laboratory each processing urgent blood sciences and all blood transfusion work.

The other sites would be connected by the LIMs which would provide staff and patient benefits, according to the report.

“A single LIMS ensures that all sites are able to share data with regards to samples effectively, and will enable digital pathology, including digital histopathology, which will reduce the travel burden on staffing.”

Examples of pathology deployments to emulate are Pathology First, South West Pathology, Southwest London Pathology, Frimley Park and HSL, said the paper.

In a group statement to Digital Health News from all four trusts, they said that the boards “have now agreed to review more detailed information and seek assurances over the next two months to understand how the proposed model would meet agreed clinical standards so that patients and clinicians receive consistently high quality diagnostic services”.

“Colleagues at each organisation are being engaged in the proposals and the next stage is the development of a full business case for each trust board to review which we would expect to be complete before the end of 2017.”

In the Black Country, the proposed procurement timeline for the IT infrastructure is October 2017 to March 2018.

The full business case will be presented to the October board, and it is expected that the hub extension should be completed by December 2018, the board papers said.