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National Screening Unit Welcomes Proposal

National Screening Unit Welcomes Auckland District Health Board Laboratory Proposal

The National Screening Unit (NSU) is pleased to accept a proposal from Auckland District Health Board outlining how the DHB laboratory - LabPlus - plans to meet the NCSP Interim Operational Policy and Quality Standards from 1 July.

The proposal, which was sent to the NSU on Friday, outlines strategies the DHB intends to put in place to meet standards applying to laboratories providing cervical cytology services to the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP).

NSU Group Manager Karen Mitchell says that based on the implementation of the strategies outlined in the proposal, LabPlus will continue providing cervical cytology services for the NCSP. "This is a very positive proposal and means Auckland DHB will be able to continue its role within the National Programme," Ms Mitchell says.

The proposal covers specific strategies aimed at meeting standards including those relating to cervical cytology volumes. These standards require each laboratory to process a minimum of 15,000 gynaecological cytological cases annually while cytotechnical staff must primary screen a minimum of 3,000 gynaecological cases each year. Auckland DHB currently process between 10,000 and 12,000 cases annually, but will increase that number to reach the standard.

Ms Mitchell says the volume mark represents a minimum standard and is used in programmes overseas. "Having a smaller number of laboratories reading a greater number of slides contributes to a high level of expertise in the laboratories and in turn a high quality result for women enrolled in the programme. Situations such as the one that happened in Gisborne occurred in a low volume laboratory."

"In addition it is important that training of cytology staff take place in high volume laboratories, to ensure high standards across the workforce."

The acceptance of the Auckland proposal means there will be a continued public laboratory presence within the NCSP, Ms Mitchell says. "Capital and Coast DHB and Waikato DHB, who read far fewer cervical cytological cases than Auckland, have indicated that they intend to sub-contract their cervical cytology services to other laboratories."

"The NCSP Interim Operational Policy and Quality Standards, due to take effect on 1 July, will improve the safety of laboratories reading cervical smears. All laboratories, both private and public, will be required to meet all 22 standards in order to continue being part of the NCSP. Our priority is the safety of New Zealand women," Ms Mitchell says.

The Standards were endorsed in the Report of the Gisborne Ministerial Inquiry released on April 10 with the Inquiry Panel calling for the standards to be put in place within six months. "In the Panel's view these minimum standards must be implemented," the Report says. The Panel noted that the need for minimum volume standards had been raised a decade ago.

The comprehensive Standards were distributed to all 6,000 providers of services to the National Cervical Screening Programme in October last year and were the product of careful analytical work and consultation with experts and health providers. The NSU will routinely monitor the performance of laboratories through an independent monitoring group with its first quarterly monitoring report due for release in July.


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