Home > News > Archive > 18th January 2007

Concern over contract loss for testing laboratory

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Archie Kay and Pene Morris
AMONG Te Awamutu residents concerned about the future of the town’s Medlab clinic are Archie Kay and Pene Morris. 018061AD

By Grant Johnston

Concern over the future of laboratory testing services has highlighted just how valued the town’s Medlab clinic is.

News that Waikato District Health Board has allocated the contract from 2008 to Tauranga-based Pathlab has seen a petition spring up calling for Medlab to be retained as the service provider. Medlab has also come out strongly questioning whether the testing services will be retained in all the 30 towns in Waikato District Health Board’s area. The company has also questioned the levels of service that will be provided.

While not wanting to get ‘caught in the cross- fire’ between commercial enterprises, a level of support that must be heartwarming to Medlab has been evident.

Pene Morris has used Medlab services regularly over the past eight years due to an ongoing medical condition, sometimes as often as once a week.

“The staff and the service have been great. I’d be really sad to see them go. I certainly would not want to see the quality and availability of service diminished.”

Archie Kay, attends the clinic for tests about once every three months and has been doing so for a number of years.

“The service has been excellent and the staff have been wonderful to deal with.”

The 84-year-old marked his 10th year of attending the gym five days a week recently - the regular tests are an important part of ensuring his diabetes is under control.

Medlab is the largest community laboratory in the region and currently performs 65% of testing for GPs and other community based referrers. It has 59 collection sites in 30 towns extending from Colville to Turangi (including Te Awamutu).

It appears that much of the laboratory testing for Waikato patients will no longer be done in Hamilton but instead at a yet-to-be developed Tauranga laboratory.

Spokesman for Medlab Hamilton, which has held the contract for 55 years prior to the DHB’s decision to award the contract to Pathlab, Dr Michael Becker, says that with this information it appears that very few of the 215 Hamilton-based Medlab staff will have jobs (there are five staff in Te Awamutu). Dr Becker claims it is also highly likely services to Waikato will be downgraded.

Dr Becker questions the ability of the new provider to be able to maintain the present levels of service at a lesser cost.

“With the knowledge we have of what it costs to run the services throughout the Waikato region, we don’t believe that another provider can do it at a lesser cost than we submitted in the tender process and still maintain the quality and access of existing service.”

He says Medlab managed to pull $4 million of cost from the process and he says that has meant very thin margins.

“What happens if the new provider comes in and cannot do what they say they are going to at the cost they have put forward?”

Medlab will be asking he DHB to provide the public with a completely transparent explanation about why this contract has been taken from Medlab. Dr Becker says Medlab staff are very worried about the impact on the quality of testing and on continued access to collection facilities, particularly in the rural townships. Medlab’s proposal targeted maintaining quality levels and ensuring access in all areas currently serviced.

“Whilst it will be devastating for the Medlab staff, this proposal will also see a deterioration in service levels with turnaround times on testing being lengthened due to the complexities of transporting samples,” Dr Becker says. “A population base the size of the Waikato needs a full community laboratory in its own right and Medlab’s proposal included increasing Hamilton based laboratory resources not reducing and sending them out of town.”

The contract was to be signed off by the executive at the February Waikato District Health Board meeting, but Dr Becker says it appears the board is expecting it to be signed within the next few weeks.

“The WDHB is moving very quickly to get a contract signed before local people have had a chance to have their say,” Dr Becker claims. “I am astounded that the DHB would push this decision through without first listening to the views of the people and doctors of the region to such a radical proposal.”

One staff member spoken to, who did not wish to be named, raised issues concerning missed blood tests if they are not made easily available.

Petitions forms are displayed at Medlab facilities throughout the Waikato.