5 Jul 2016

'Privatisation surprise' for DHB radiology - union

4:18 pm on 5 July 2016

The radiographers' union has threatened the Nelson Marlborough DHB with an injunction over what it says is a surprise proposal to privatise radiology services.

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Photo: 123rf

Apex national secretary Deborah Powell said the board had failed on two points - the first being a failure to communicate with staff and, secondly, it appeared to have called for expressions of interest on the proposal without having done due diligence.

The board announced at a meeting last Thursday it was calling for expressions of interest for developing a single radiology service across the top of the South Island.

Dr Powell said the union was dismayed that was the first staff had heard of the proposal.

She said about 50 radiographers and sonographers could be affected, and eight to 10 radiologists.

"There are two groups of staff potentially affected, plus a few nurses and clerical workers, but the vast majority are the radiologists - the doctors who practise radiology, who read the films and do the interventions, and then there are the radiographers and sonographers who take the pictures and do the examinations.

"We're looking after the radiographers and the sonographers, and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists looks after the radiologists. We understand the Association has also raised concerns with the DHB," she said.

Dr Powell said it was a cavalier attitude for a public institution dealing with public funds, and all the more baffling given the recent failure of privatisation of radiology services in Taranaki.

"DHBs remind us constantly they're dealing with public funds. That puts a responsibility on them to do this properly and we don't believe they've done it here."

Dr Powell said if the board did not respond favourably to its approach around the process, then the union had the opportunity to seek an injunction around breach of employment agreements.

Health board chief executive Chris Fleming said radiology services had to be improved for the benefit of patients. He said a review of the current model was raised last year, and there had been a number of discussions with staff and the union since then.

Radiologists in Nelson were mainly employees, and in Blenheim the service was largely outsourced.

"One of the problems with the current service configuration is that patients are being treated differently based on where they are attempting to access services and this is not equitable for our population," Mr Fleming said.

He said the call for expressions of interest was simply a process to help guide a way forward and, if it showed change was needed, then consultation with staff would follow.

"No decision has been made as to whether the future will see radiology fully outsourced," Mr Fleming said.

He said the expressions of interest document made it clear that potential outcomes included a fully employed model, a fully outsourced model, or a mixed model with some services outsourced and some provided by employed staff.

"The key aim of a partnership would be to develop a model that delivers a single, consistent, district-wide service," Mr Fleming said.

The board envisaged an evaluation group made up of senior medical officers and radiology management to review the responses.

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