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Don't sell off vital labs to balance the books

17 March 2006

Don't sell off vital labs to balance the books - Greens

A recommendation by the Otago and Southland District Health Boards to privatise their hospital laboratories raises extremely serious public health issues, Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.

"Privatising hospital laboratories would be a short-sighted, foolhardy move, aimed at saving money, with serious long term health risks," Ms Kedgley says.

"Hospital laboratories provide a core health service, and if we sell them off we will lose control of key public health functions like the surveillance of infectious diseases.

"Such surveillance is the frontline in the fight to avoid the spread of illnesses such as influenza, and it would be foolhardy to contract it out to private contractors at a time when the rest of the public health system is trying to prepare for a potential bird flu pandemic.

"Laboratory staff are heavily involved in infection control work. They collect and collate blood-stream infection data and survey cases of influenza to help provide national data. How can we be sure that these crucial services will continue if these labs are privatised?" Ms Kedgley says

If implemented, this move would be one of the most significant privatisations in healthcare since the 1990s.

"Treating public hospitals as businesses failed then too. Let's learn from history, think long-term, and protect our public health surveillance capacity," Ms Kedgley says.

"If the flu pandemic ever hit New Zealand our lives might depend upon it.

"It worries me that District Health Boards (DHBs) are under such pressure to not to show a deficit that they are taking short-sighted steps like this which they will live to regret.

"I am also very concerned by reports that health professionals with laboratory expertise were deliberately excluded from the DHB decision-making process," Ms Kedgley says.

ENDS

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