10 Mar 2015

Lab staff upset with DHBs' plan

5:35 am on 10 March 2015

The firm set to lose its contract to provide community medical testing in the Wellington region says its staff are struggling and upset.

In a hotly debated move, Wellington's Capital and Coast, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs have named a private firm, Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) as the company that should provide not only all community medical testing, but hospital tests as well, from November.

It would mean the long-term provider of community testing, Aotea Pathology, was out of a job from then with no alternative in sight.

Director Richard Keys said the service had always been top quality, and its approximately 220 staff were not taking it well.

"They are struggling at the moment to understand the decision which appears to be financially motivated rather than clinically and we've had several staff in tears. People are not understanding the process, why the change."

He said there had been no communication from the DHBs about the transition, and some staff could opt to leave amid the uncertainty.

"The ability for us to provide services up to the end of October, we're of course contractually obliged to do so, however any time you introduce uncertainty to staff and with a fixed end date the ability to retain staff to that end date will become a key issue for us.'

Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs chair Virginia Hope said the contract with SCL would enable the cash-strapped DHBs to invest in new lab facilities, co-ordinated from a multi-million dollar state of the art lab to be located in vacant space at Wellington Hospital.

"It helps us around reducing our need to invest in capital. It is an advantage in terms of being able to do things more efficiently and in some respects more effectively because we're putting a number of services together."

Dr Hope would not specify the savings the DHBs expected from the contract, which was still to be finalised, but said combining community and hospital testing would ensure they were significant.

DHB staff were expected to be taken on by SCL under Code of Good Faith provisions, although this was not expected to extent to Aotea staff.

SCL chief executive Peter Gootjes conceded fewer staff would be needed overall, but could not say how many.

"The hospital staff will all get offered jobs, and some of those may or may not come, and then we'll be looking at what people we might want from the Aotea service, yeah."

The DHBs' decision would not be final until after further consultation with staff, finalisation of the contract with SCL, and approval by the Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman.

But Ian Powell of the senior doctors' union said hospital diagnostic testing in particular was too important to go to a private firm, and Dr Coleman must give it the thumbs-down.

"The longer this goes on the more our public hospitals in the Wellington region are being destabilised. What the DHBs are proposing puts in danger patient safety and is at a considerable financial risk."

The DHBs said a final decision will be made on 24 April.