Board 'assured' of lab service

Last updated 13:00 27/11/2013

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The region's health boss says he would be an idiot to rule out problems as a result of job cuts at Wairau Hospital's medical laboratory.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said the ability to maintain rosters with five fewer staff was going to be a challenge.

But backup and support for the remaining Wairau Hospital lab staff would not necessarily come from Nelson, Mr Fleming said.

Southern Communities Laboratories, which owns Wairau and Nelson hospitals medical lab operator MedLab South, regularly moved staff around the country, he said.

"If they need to fly people in to cover their obligations, that's what they will do."

Mr Fleming was speaking at a health board meeting in Blenheim yesterday.

The company was well aware of its contractual obligations to the board to provide 24-hour, seven days-a-week hospital testing and it had assured him it would meet those obligations, he said.

Southern Communities Laboratories announced earlier this month it would be cutting five jobs at Wairau Hospital and sending samples to Nelson Hospital to be tested there. Three Marlborough people spoke at the board meeting yesterday to voice their concerns.

Blenheim man Tony Smale said his first management role was as a hospital laboratory manager.

Both organisations and communities required a critical mass of capability and capacity to operate sustainably, he said.

The implications of the ageing population and shrinking working population in Marlborough had massive economic implications and was made worse by increased centralisation of services.

"I ask you to be aware that every decision that you make to reduce capability and capacity erodes this region's sustainability and drives us closer to a critical mass tipping point, all the time creating new stressors that in turn impact health, wellbeing and prosperity."

Marlborough man John Kershaw said he felt the health board had not fought the changes and that it had let down the people of the region. The board should have negotiated a freeze on the proposed cuts until the top of the south health review had reported, he said.

Walter Scott, speaking for the Save Our Services group, which successfully campaigned to stop acute services being moved from Wairau Hospital, said there were too many downsides to the staff cuts at the Wairau Hospital laboratory.

"The reduction in that staff is going to weaken their ability to perform, which will affect the clinical services in the hospital."

Mr Fleming said there was pressure from the health board to ensure that contractual obligations would be met.

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The lab operator and staff had it made clear to them that the board had a commitment to maintain acute services at Wairau Hospital, Mr Fleming said.

This staff reduction was not to be a slippery slope, he said.

- Nelson

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