Medlab takes strain off Labtests
The under-fire Labtests laboratory service has been stripped of some of its responsibilities by the region’s three district health boards.
After numerous complaints from general practitioners and patients since it took over in August, Labtests will relinquish 10 percent of its workload to former provider Diagnostic Medlab.
DML will pick up testing samples from private hospitals and specialists, resthomes and fertility clinics in a contract that will cost the boards an extra $4.4 million per year over a four-year contract.
Auckland Regional District Health Boards governance committee chairman Pat Snedden says removing private testing from Labtests means it can focus on its core responsibilities.
“They need some breathing space.”
The recent transition difficulties have prompted performance indicators to be introduced for both Labtests and DML.
“Both providers will be held to the same standard,” Mr Snedden says.
“It will give objective information to the public at large.”
Mr Snedden says in hindsight the fourweek transition period from DML to Labtests, which began in August, was unrealistic.
“Maybe it was a bit too large. We struck some difficulties and had to intervene.”
Pathologist Ian Beer, who was brought in by the health boards to assess the new arrangement, agrees the transition period was too quick.
“There’s only one way to feed an elephant and that’s mouthful by mouthful,” he says. “This was a course meal.”
Dr Beer says simple problems have hampered Labtests, with staff not being able to read doctors’ requests and difficulty getting results back to doctors.
Head of the combined health boards’ quality assurance team Johan Vendrig, who moved in with a team of specialists four weeks ago when Labtests’ problems began, says the situation has been difficult for the company’s staff.
“The staff have been under a lot of pressure given the complaints
three- coming in. They’ve been doing their best to address the issues.
“Unfortunately some patients may not have received good service.”
While the new shared testing arrangement increases the cost from $67m to $71.4m per year, Mr Snedden says that’s still well down on the $82m the boards were paying annually for the service in 2006.
Problems with laboratory testing services in Auckland began in 2006 when Labtests was awarded the $560m eight-year contract ahead of DML.
In 2007 the High Court overturned the boards’ decision, ruling former Auckland District Health Board member Tony Bierre’s involvement with Labtests prejudiced the tender process.
But last year the Court of Appeal handed the contract back to Labtests.
Neither DML chief executive Arthur Morris nor Labtests spokeswoman Trish Sherson would comment on the new arrangement.
Have you been to Labtests since it took over in August? How did you rate its service? Email edcl@snl. co.nz.