5 Apr 2009

Medical testing lab prepares to take over Auckland contract

11:00 am on 5 April 2009

Medical laboratory workers say Auckland's district health boards have assumed laboratory staff will move jobs to a new provider of community medical testing in Auckland, but that may not happen.

A new firm, Labtests, is preparing to provide all community medical tests for the Auckland region - more than a million people - from September 7.

The allocation of the $560 million contract follows a lengthy legal row with the current provider Diagnostic Medlab Limited, or DML, which is continuing to resist the change.

There is nervousness in the Auckland community over the contract's transfer to Labtests.

The Medical Lab Workers Union says pathologists and other lab staff, who tend to be loyal to one employer, may not switch over.

The union's spokesperson Bryan Raill says that would pose problems, because there is no way to ship the work around the country, so the tests must be done in Auckland.

But Labtests says there is considerable interest in the jobs it is advertising.

Healthscope-owned Labtests says it wants to hire staff from DML as its first option, and to take over the service in stages from about a month before the go-live date.

It says testing will be done in Auckland, but it will bring staff in from other Healthscope labs if necessary.

Medical Association chairperson Peter Foley says his group has no view about which firm should provide the services, but believes the process used to select a successful tender was flawed.

He says it's very important not to have only one provider and Auckland will be in trouble when it again puts the work up for tender in a few years time.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says he has been assured that the Auckland changeover will go smoothly.

He says greater consistency is needed in the way medical testing services are provided to the community.

Mr Ryall says decisions by district health boards about community laboratory services mean patients are charged for some tests in some areas and not others.

Mr Ryall says it's happening in a very piecemeal way across the country.