FEARS for the future of the pathology labs at the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals have been raised for the second time.

In 2014 campaigners fought off plans to shut the specialist centres to analyse blood and tissue and transfer the staff and work to Oldham in the wake of a government review.

It was prompted after an independent report in 2008 by Lord Carter called for pathology services across England to be centralised in fewer locations to release cash for improvements.

Bosses at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said at the time there would be ‘operational risks’ of a partnership with other trusts and ‘limited gain’.

Now NHS Improvement has come up with a new plan to rationalise services on a ‘hub and spoke’ principle which could see the main laboratory based in Preston.

Patients champion Russ McLean was ‘appalled’ at the new proposal which he considered an attempt to ‘close by stealth’ the two pathology departments.

Labour health spokeswoman and Burnley MP Julie Cooper said she ‘alarmed’ by the new proposals and urgently seeking more details.

The new proposals would see the current 105 individual hospital pathology departments rearranged into 29 networks with a main laboratory hub and subsidiary ‘spokes’.

NHS Improvement says this could save £200million by 2021, ensure consistency of care and improve staff career prospects.

Mr McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “I am appalled. I think this is an attempt to close by stealth the pathology departments at the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General Hospitals by downgrading them and then shutting them. I shall oppose the proposals and urge the EHLT to do the same.”

Mrs Cooper said: “I am very alarmed and am seeking details urgently from the trust and the Department of Health. I do not want the laboratories at Blackburn or Burnley closed.”

A spokeswoman for the EHLT declined to comment. The proposals are likely to be discussed by its board later this year.

Professor Tim Evans, from NHS Improvement, said: “Patients deserve the best quality care delivered as efficiently as possible. Every hospital will still have its own lab meaning patients won’t need to travel to continue receiving the services they need.”