Med­lab takes strain off Labtests

Central Leader - - News - By Scott Mor­gan

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.

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