Wide-reaching functions of Dunedin's National Poisons Centre,
including advising on military and national security matters,
are threatened by a proposal that could cost up to 14 jobs,
centre director Dr Wayne Temple says.
Many functions of the centre, which late this year will mark
its 50th anniversary, were not written in contracts, he said.
Dr Temple did not know how the additional services would be
provided if the centre lost its status as helpline provider.
The Dunedin-based national poisons helpline may be merged
with those for general health condition queries (Healthline),
gambling, depression, smoking, alcohol, drug abuse,
immunisation and hepatitis C. A request for proposal
outlining the final shape of the combined service will be
released by the Ministry of Health next month.
Emergency poison calls were unlikely to be answered as
promptly by a non-specialist helpline, Dr Temple said. Eight
of the 14 staff were on the front line taking calls, for
which they had specialist training.
The centre housed a specialist poison database, which was
time-consuming to maintain, Dr Temple said.
''We have a very complex service. It's not just sitting in
front of a phone and plucking data out of a database that's
been compiled by other people.''
He felt ''strongly'' the merger had not been well considered.
It was international best practice for poison services to be
''We're puzzled why we're put into that [combined] service.''
The service had interacted with the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet to give advice on chemical terrorism,
and advised the military about possible hazards on overseas
Its advice was sought by police regarding clandestine
laboratories, and other law enforcement matters. Other
agencies seeking advice included the Ministry of Health, the
Fire Service, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and
Employment, the Ministry for Primary Industries (food
safety), the Environmental Protection Authority and the
It provided complex data to aid the development of New
Zealand's world-first legislation, the Psychoactive
Substances Act, which would regulate the substances in a new
In addition, the centre educated the public, particularly
children, about poisons.
The Ministry of Health is to release the proposal in a couple
of weeks. Yesterday a spokesman said the ministry had
listened to submissions from affected services, and made some
changes to its initial plan, but he could not comment
Dr Temple said it would be the University of Otago's decision
whether to tender to provide the mega-helpline, but on a
practical level, it did not appear feasible.
''We're anxiously awaiting the request for proposal to see
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, contacted for comment,
acknowledged the work of the poisons centre in providing
detailed data for the psychoactive law he introduced in
Parliament, which was passed last year.
''I do want to acknowledge the work the National Poisons
Centre has done over a long period of time, and I hope that
that will continue. And that's really about all I can say at
''I don't have personally any qualms about the quality of
what they do, but I can't say anything beyond that.''
He was not involved in the process being undertaken by the
ministry, Mr Dunne said.