25 Apr 2015

Call to stop Wellington lab restructure

8:01 am on 25 April 2015

The senior doctors' union is calling on the Health Minister to stop a major laboratory restructure in the Wellington region.

The Wellington, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa District Health Boards (DHBs) confirmed that Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) will have the new job of providing all hospital and community diagnostic testing from 1 November.

man in lab coat and microscope

Photo: AFP

SCL will provide the service from a multi-million dollar laboratory hub at Wellington Regional Hospital, with upgraded labs at Wairarapa, Hutt and Kenepuru Hospitals.

The plan, which has been criticised by some pathologists, still needs to be signed off by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

Ian Powell, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said clinical experts had advised not to go ahead with the plans but it had been disregarded.

"However, it's not over yet," he said. "It will still require the approval of the minister of health. And the minister of health has said quite clearly that DHBs' decisions on matters such as this must be made on clinical advice."

Mr Powell said hospital diagnostic testing was too important to go to a private firm.

"Our hospital laboratories affect around 70 percent of clinical decision-making that directly affects patients in our public hospital," he said. "To put in a private firm to run that, whose prime object is to extract profits, is high risk territory."

But Virginia Hope, the board chairperson of Hutt Valley and Capital and Coast DHBs, said the decision wasn't made lightly.

"It has taken over two years to get this point and the three boards have considered a wide range of information, including feedback from GPs, hospital staff, unions and other interest groups, before making this decision.

"The new service will mean there is one seamless process for hospital and community laboratory services in the lower North Island."

Dr Hope said the majority of the changes would have no impact.

Meanwhile, SCL, owned by Healthscope New Zealand Ltd, has reached a conditional agreement to buy Aotea Pathology, which withdrew from the request-for-proposal process.

With its medical-testing contract ending on 31 October, director Richard Keys said the sale was a good outcome for about 230 staff members.

"When we decided to withdraw the contract from the process, we said that one of the key things we wanted to do was to see what we could do for our staff," he said.

"So over the last period of time, we've been in discussions with Healthscope and have agreed for them to take over the ownership of Aotea Pathology.

"The sale preserves the service and testing within the region and also retains all of Aotea staff, highly skilled staff on their existing terms and conditions."

Mr Keys wasn't able to say whether SCL would keep all staff on board.

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