SDHB handling of error queried

Don Mackie.
Don Mackie.
The Southern District Health Board (SDHB) was warned it could be ''losing sight of the bigger picture'' in its dealings with a patient whose biopsy specimen had been mixed up with another.

An August 27 letter from Ministry of Health chief medical officer Dr Don Mackie to SDHB chief executive Carole Heatly has been released by the ministry under the Official Information Act.

The woman had had a false negative biopsy result. The other affected patient went on to have an unnecessary mastectomy because of the specimen mix-up.

Dr Mackie was leading a national investigation into pathology blunders which included the Dunedin case. The SDHB carried out an internal investigation into the Dunedin case. The specimen mix-up occurred at Southern Community Laboratories (SCL), but the investigation also examined DHB processes. In the letter, Dr Mackie said the woman felt a ''loss of relationship'' with the DHB and SCL.

Dr Mackie acknowledged SCL had sent the woman a letter expressing regret, and had offered her a meeting. The DHB was withholding an apology and formal response until its investigation had concluded, which ''may still be some time away''.

''I am concerned that the DHB may be losing sight of the bigger picture - the need for the woman affected by the biopsy error to have her relationships with the DHB and the laboratory restored and to be kept informed.

''My intent in writing to you is to encourage the DHB, perhaps through the involvement of a member from its executive leadership team, to meet with this woman and her family for as long as it takes to allow the woman to be heard and for her to find a measure of resolution."

In response, Ms.Heatly forwarded Dr Mackie an email she sent patient services executive director Lexie O'Shea.

She asked Mr. O'Shea to follow Dr Mackie's recommendation, saying ''this is big stuff and especially in that it has triggered a letter from the country's CMO, to express concern on how we have handled this''.

Yesterday, patient services medical director Dick Bunton said he could not answer questions about the matter because of patient privacy.

However, asked if the board's processes to deal with complaining patients were lacking, he said no.

Asked if the board had changed the way it dealt with patient complaints, he said no.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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