Specialists condemn privatisation plan for Wellington labs

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) has attacked the decision by the three Wellington DHBs to name private pathology firm Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) as the preferred provider of an integrated hospital and community laboratory service.

Wairarapa, Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs issued a joint statement this week saying an integrated laboratory would provide the opportunity to improve laboratory services and create a seamless process for hospital and community services across the greater Wellington area.

Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs board chair Virginia Hope said as part of the tender, SCL will develop a multimillion dollar state-of-the-art laboratory facility at Wellington Hospital and upgrade equipment at Wairarapa, Hutt and Kenepuru hospitals.

“This wouldn’t be possible within the DHBs’ capital budget,” Dr Hope said. “Improved IT systems will also allow GPs and hospital specialists to access results, no matter whether the test was done in the hospital or community.

“This would avoid patients unnecessarily having the same test done multiple times, as often happens now.”

The contract, which still needs the approval of Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, is also subject to consultation with staff and unions and negotiations with SCL, a subsidiary of Australian private hospital and laboratory provider Healthscope.

The decision will be finalised at a joint meeting scheduled for April 24.

However, ASMS executive director Ian Powell has hit out at the plan, saying the decision to put public hospital laboratories in the hands of a private company “defies belief”.

“The DHB boards appear to have forged ahead with their pre-determined path despite strong clinical opposition, a lack of robust financial analysis, and the Health Minister’s own advice to hospital bosses to listen to their clinical staff,” Mr Powell said. “What planet are they on?”

Mr Powell said a survey of senior doctors employed by the Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs showed they were overwhelmingly opposed to the outsourcing of their public hospital laboratories.

Hospital pathologists have also written to Dr Coleman and the boards, warning them of the risks of the proposal, Mr Powell said, and the DHB boards had “failed dismally” to provide a financial analysis of the benefits of privatisation.

Mr Powell said the association's analysis of the proposal showed there were likely to be clinical risks.

“On the one hand we have the weight of real world experience and expertise – the voices of medical specialists and other health professionals saying that this is a daft idea,” he said.

“On the other hand we have a bunch of hospital bosses waving their magic wands and hoping for the planets to align.

“The Health Minister needs to look very closely at the competence of those in charge of these DHBs. They are compromising patient safety and increasing financial risk.”

Posted in New Zealand eHealth

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