The interim clinical director of Southern District Health
Board's breast-screening service says staff were ''surprised
and distressed'' by news the board may opt out of the service.
Stephen Packer said the proposal document to drop the
National Screening Unit contract lacked specifics, and it was
difficult to get straight answers from managers, who were
acting ''like politicians''.
The Public Service Association yesterday labelled the
consultation a ''sham'', and the senior doctors' union is
also not happy about the situation.
Mr Packer was a semiretired breast surgeon who agreed in
April last year to assist BreastScreen Healthcare when the
Ministry of Health said it needed more support.
He also has an informal role supporting the diagnostic
breast-care service, the future of which is now uncertain -
it is outside the scope of the screening contract the board
is considering relinquishing, but works closely with that
He feared for the viability of the diagnostic service on its
own, and there was not enough time to investigate the
situation in the two-week feedback period.
Due to the service's shortage of radiologists and its
vulnerability as a small service, the board is considering
opting out of the contract, which ends on June 30 next year.
The service relies on support from Counties Manukau DHB,
which has given notice it is ending the service in the middle
of next year.
Staff were told on Monday and have two weeks to give
Mr Packer was told before staff, on Friday, but would have
preferred an opportunity to have input much earlier.
The diagnostic service, for women who have symptoms, was
closely linked with the screening programme, yet the board
had only said further investigation was needed in to how the
diagnostic service would cope if screening was performed by
an external provider.
In a relatively small population area like Otago-Southland, a
strong link between diagnostic and screening was more
important than in larger centres.
''The general feeling among staff is that the decision is
likely to have been made; that this process is simply one to
cover the employment requirements,'' Mr Packer said.
He would like to see the service kept in-house, supported by
a long-term arrangement with another provider, perhaps in a
It was vital the health board recognised the value of the
screening service, and the knock-on effects of losing it.
Recruitment was a challenge, as breast radiology was not
''particularly glamorous'', but it was not good enough to
say: ''[It's] too hard for us. Somebody else can do it''.
''That really has ... a downgrading effect on the whole
hospital community, the medical community, and the community
as a whole.''
He likened the situation to the threat over agricultural
research centre Invermay, saying too many things were ''being
done'' to Dunedin from the outside.
Public Service Association (PSA) southern region organiser
Julie Morton labelled the consultation period a sham, as it
was too short to address serious issues raised in the
She said the board should have advised earlier Counties
Manukau DHB was withdrawing.
In response, Southern DHB patient services director Lexie
O'Shea acknowledged in an email it would have been preferable
to have more time to work through the options with staff.
''However, it is only now that we have now got to a point
where both the unfilled vacancy remains, and where Counties
Manukau have confirmed they can no longer provide the service
from July next year.
''We were notified of this by Counties Manukau in July and
have since then been in talks with them and with BreastScreen
It was unclear why the 1.3 full-time equivalent radiology
vacancy had been difficult to fill, she indicated.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive
director Ian Powell said the board needed to improve its
planning and recruitment processes to ensure it had enough
specialists for vulnerable services.
He questioned why a regional collaboration model was not
considered, given health boards were supposed to work
''Is some of this regional collaboration talk just