Views at Ten

16 Feb, 2018

It has been over a year since HSL started the hugely complex task of moving into the Halo – now one of Europe’s largest pathology laboratories. David Byrne, HSL’s Chief Executive, resides on the tenth floor. HSL Online spoke to him about how the journey is going and, at a time of unprecedented change, how he views the future from the top of the Halo.

You moved into the Halo in December 2016 – how has that journey been for you?

We are engaged with so much detail at the moment that it’s as well to remind ourselves of the bigger picture and what we’re attempting to do here. We are effectively consolidating two London teaching hospital laboratories with the UK’s largest independent sector laboratory, together with two other acute hospitals’ work, into one site. It has been – and still is – a mammoth task. I believe this is the largest integration of pathology sites ever undertaken in this country.

What have turned out to be the biggest challenges – and what have you been most pleased with during this phase?

We did a huge amount of preparation work before moving in here. Much of that preparation involved getting senior scientists and pathologists, from several different sites and organisations, to agree common methodologies. For some, it meant working in a completely new way and developing new assays.

I thought the teams did really well and it’s testament to the quality of the scientists and doctors in our organisation that we’ve got to where we are now.

What do you think are the opportunities – and the challenges – for the diagnostics sector in the next 2-3 years?

We’re living with a challenged NHS at the moment – it is desperately seeking efficiencies. I think the general direction of travel will therefore be towards more consolidation in our sector. So, for example, we have almost completed the consolidation of infection sciences, creating one of the world’s largest microbiology labs here in the Halo. Handling around 1.5 million specimens a year, this new laboratory is closely linked to our new consolidated molecular suite which provides the latest in molecular diagnostics.

It’ll be great for doctors and patients because it will deliver more precise diagnostics, faster. This is just one area in which we see HSL as not only creating a world-leading laboratory, but also meeting future needs in a cost-effective way.

What we have to make sure is that, while we’re consolidating a number of laboratories in one site, we also create rapid response labs within or close to the acute hospitals to ensure that we can provide urgent test results quickly.

What is the outlook for UK pathology in the near to medium future in the context of the potential seismic political changes?

We sense more consolidation as efficiency drives are implemented. There’s a degree of uncertainty in terms of Brexit, although we have a sense that there’ll be a solution to this and a drawbridge won’t be pulled up after we’ve left the EU. Where we might see more impact is in the field of research, which is now a global operation. It’s too early to tell what the effect of Brexit will be on that, but it does seem that the UK Government are looking to protect our world leading position in research and development.

How do you see the sector coping with the ever growing demand for diagnostics?

Testing volumes have grown historically at between 5 and 10% a year. As part of the drive for efficiency, the NHS has been trying to manage demand for diagnostics, but they still remain a cornerstone of a doctor’s work – most clinical pathways rely on patients having access to pathology services.

Even if volumes of diagnostics don’t grow, we will definitely see tests becoming more specialised – a good example being the increase in genetics and molecular testing in cancer diagnostics. We’ve consolidated our 21 molecular and genetics labs into one laboratory, which is not only cost-efficient, but will also give scientists from different specialities the opportunity to work together and share best practice.

Personalised medicine is clearly the future. Ensuring a patient’s treatment is focused on what works best for that individual leads to better outcomes and quality of care.  Diagnostics plays a major part in personalised medicine.

What is HSL’s approach to recruiting and retaining top talent – and making pathology a career of choice?

We’re investing significantly in training for our own scientific staff, particularly in areas where there are shortages, in order to ensure a supply of home grown scientists for the future. We have formed our own faculty of education and training with a dedicated manager. We are using an online portal to support our training programmes and have just launched a handbook for staff completing their IBMS portfolios. We also support medical training through the faculty.

We recognise the need to be attractive to scientists, providing the very best facilities and an outstanding work environment. We feel we have a lot to offer as far as that’s concerned.

So, where will HSL be in a year’s time?

Our heads are down delivering HSL’s transformation – making sure we conduct that safely and without any interruption of day-to-day operations. That has to be our immediate focus. But we also have to keep an eye on the future and, yes, we’re looking at a number of new projects – so I’d say it’ll be business as usual.

HSL is a partnership between The Doctors Laboratory, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (the Royal Free London) and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH)

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