Staff at Birmingham NHS blood centres are planning strike action over Christmas in protest at 140 job cuts which, it was claimed, could result in patients' lives being put at risk.
The NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) service yesterday announced it was axing 600 jobs nationwide, including the 140 at three centres in Birmingham.
The cuts are part of a move to consolidate its blood testing and processing services to three 'hubs', in Bristol, Manchester and London by March 2009.
The union Amicus said it had received "overwhelming support" in a consultative ballot on possible strike action over Christmas, with 81 per cent of balloted members stating they would walk out in protest.
And officials at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the UK's largest transplant service, voiced fears that vital investigations and cross-matching tests will take longer once they are moved to a new centre in Filton, Bristol.
The NHSBT wants to modernise blood collection, maintain "almost the whole" existing blood bank network, and develop its specialist services by "rationalising" them into fewer sites in order to stabilise the cost of blood which has risen by 56 per cent.
It employs 636 staff in Birmingham at its blood donor centre in New Street and two units close to the QE Hospital in Edgbaston, which house the region's blood bank, laboratories and blood collection teams.
A total of 597 jobs are to go, with the other nine centres affected being Brentwood, Cambridge, Lancaster, Leeds, Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton and Tooting.
The service handles about 125,000 units (475ml) of blood a year in the West Midlands, while nationally it produces 2.2 million units.
Bill Campbell, Amicus's staff side secretary, said the plans were "a monumental error of judgment".
"Unions will not sit back and see lives put at risk because of these job cuts," he said.
"The cuts will leave massive holes in the coverage of processing centres, particularly in the Midlands and the North-east.
"Depending on just three centres will also put patients in jeopardy in the event of an emergency situation such as the London bombing or in case of flood, fire or a pandemic at any one of them."
Delays in diagnosing some cases which relied on blood tests could take longer because of the reorganisation, according to the UHB trust which runs the QE and Selly Oak hospitals.
A trust spokeswoman said: "We spend #5 million a year on blood products and sometimes we need to locate rare blood types through a matching service currently provided by the NHSBT in Edgbaston.
"Investigations are carried out at the Red Cell Investigation Unit, which we understand is to move to the new Bristol site by the end of 2008.
"This may well result in vital diagnostics and blood match results being delayed – there's bound to be a knock-on effect."