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Response of Health Minister to Crisis “Inadequate"

Response of Minister of Health to Crisis “Inadequate”

Australasia’s peak medical diagnostic body, the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA), has yet to receive a satisfactory response from the Minster of Health, the Hon Pete Hodgson, following their meeting in October. At the meeting, the RCPA raised serious concerns over the changes and restructuring of pathology services throughout New Zealand.

Specifically, the RCPA has called for:

The immediate cessation of further tendering arrangements for the delivery of Pathology services in New Zealand;

The establishment of a high level National Pathology Advisory Council to advise the Minster and District Health Boards on pathology issues; and

The National Pathology Advisory Council to work with government to develop a National Framework for Pathology Service delivery by Christmas 2006.

Chief Executive Officer of the RCPA, Dr Debra Graves, says that the recent restructure remains of paramount concern.

“Despite a concerted effort on the part of the RCPA, and other medical organisations and associations such as the New Zealand Medical Association, the Minister of Health does not appear to be taking notice,” says Dr Graves.

“Of particular concern is the Minister of Health’s recent comments in Parliament that there isn’t a problem – in fact, he stated that the Pathology workforce in New Zealand is increasing at the present time, rather than being in crisis.”

The Minister appears to have been badly advised on this issue as this does not reflect the reality of the situation.

According to the Minister of Health’s own statistics – the methodology of which the College questions – New Zealand will not reach the per capita level of pathologists of Australia (which is also recognised to be at crisis level) until 2015, and the desired per capita ratio until 2018.

These projections have been developed without taking into account any possible losses of Pathologists from New Zealand following training. In fact, many New Zealand-trained pathologists have chosen to work overseas, including more than 65 working overseas currently.

The current medico-political environment in New Zealand will accelerate this problem.

“This is especially worrying as a recent survey of Pathologists in New Zealand indicated that almost 50% are considering leaving the country, and seeking positions overseas,” says Dr Graves.

“Compounding the current crisis with an exodus of this size from the pathology workforce would be an unprecedented disaster on any scale, anywhere.

“The Minister of Health must stop denying the problem and start dealing with it, to ensure a workable medical system for the future of New Zealand”.

The RCPA is concerned that the current changes and restructuring of pathology services in New Zealand will impact the quality of pathology services and the pathology workforce for years to come.

Dr Graves says pathology is an integral part of the medical process.

“Without very high quality pathology services, the medical system, as we now know it, will virtually cease to exist,” she says.

The problem stemmed originally from the fact that some District Health Boards supported the tendering out of pathology services without adequate consultation with the pathology profession or other medical experts. They have acted as if pathology services were “commodities” such as laundry or food services, rather than the vital medical services that they are.

The College urges the Minister to respond immediately to the medical community’s call for an appropriate national plan for tenders or other procurement arrangements to be conducted within strict and realistic pathology delivery parameters.

ends

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