Reassurances on privatised fertility service

Privatising the South's fertility service should mean shorter waiting times and new cutting-edge fertility procedures, the likely future provider says.

At least the same level of service would stay in Dunedin, and patients could go to Christchurch for very new procedures that might over time be provided in Dunedin, Fertility Associates chief executive Alex Price said.

Mr Price indicated the nine affected Otago Fertility Service (OFS) jobs were likely to be safe - although he could not give guarantees - and there might be more jobs as the service would target more private patients.

The fertility firm contacted the Otago Daily Times saying it wished to dispel concerns about the the Southern District Health Board's privatisation plans.

Mr Price wanted to allay fears the relationship with the University of Otago would be compromised. Fertility Associates supported research and teaching roles at New Zealand universities. Access to national databases of donors meant waiting times would shorten.

''I understand [the wait time now] is quite lengthy. The team that's down there do the very best they can, but they've only got that population base to draw on, and the resources they have available.''

He believed a higher level of private demand could be tapped, above the annual 25-30 privately funded IVF cycles OFS carried out.

By privatising the service, the board avoided a looming regulatory cost to be introduced late next year, involving new disposal guidelines for stored gametes and embryos.

''That's an example of a regulatory change that is coming up which is putting quite a bit of pressure on fertility clinics to meet.''

Fertility Associates provides a service for the entire South Island apart from Otago and Southland, with the Canterbury District Health Board the lead entity for the agreement. The Southern DHB has indicated it wants to join other South Island boards in a joint tender.

However, there could be no guarantees about who would end up providing the service until the tender process was carried out, Mr Price said. Fertility Associates was likely to lease the facility in Dunedin, but planned to build a new facility in due course.

Mr Price, of Auckland, was speaking to the ODT from Malaysia, where the firm is opening a clinic early next year.

Public Service Association southern region organiser Julie Morton said when contacted she was always cautious when members' jobs were on the line, although Mr Price's comments provided some assurance. She said staff had been given conflicting information from the board about their certainty of continuing employment, so were keenly awaiting more information.

Ms Morton said the teaching relationship with the university was critical, and she believed it could be compromised by the privatisation. Fertility was a growth area because procedures were becoming more effective, so maintaining a teaching link was important for Dunedin's ability to train doctors, she said.

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