New provider aiming to employ local staff

The new provider of breast-screening in Otago and Southland is confident it can recruit radiologists based in the South, saying it prefers not to send images elsewhere to be read.

The Southern District Health Board cited a lack of radiologists in its decision to give up the BreastScreen Aotearoa contract. It has relied on radiologists as far away as Auckland to keep the service running.

New provider Pacific Radiology Group takes over later this year.

Pacific chief executive Lance Lawler, of Wellington, said the company was determined to ''solve'' the long-standing recruitment problem.

Radiologists worked best as part of the local health service, and not based remotely, Dr Lawler said.

He acknowledged it could take time to recruit screening programme-accredited radiologists.

Asked why it would be successful where the board failed, Dr Lawler said Pacific and its South Island provider, BreastScreen South, were focused on one area of healthcare.

This enabled easier recruitment for specialist roles. A health board had many different areas of responsibility.

The organisation was keen to offer employment to existing staff, such as clerical workers, as soon as possible, but it had to wait for the process to unfold. He understood this involved negotiations between the health board and unions.

He could not commit to how many staff would keep their jobs, saying Pacific did not yet have details of the make-up of the existing workforce.

There was no ''hidden agenda'' to run the service from another centre.

The company was negotiating with the board to use fixed facilities in Invercargill and Dunedin.

The new service would not be in place until later this year. A transitional period would start in the middle of the year.

The decision to drop screening has led the board to consider whether a related service, diagnostic breast care, can stand alone or might also need to be outsourced.

Dr Lawler said Pacific was focused on its new screening service but it was possible it would tender for the diagnostic work if it was outsourced.

Public Service Association southern region organiser Julie Morton said workers were waiting to hear through the board whether Pacific Radiology required them to re-apply, or whether all of their jobs were safe.

''We haven't actually received anything of any substance that tells us how those staff might transfer - or not.''

Last week, Southern District Health Board patient services director Lexie O'Shea said the employment transfer process would take about three months and started only about two weeks ago, when the new provider was confirmed.

''Staff will be fully informed during this process,'' she said in a statement.

The Otago Daily Times asked this week whether the board needed to move the process forward, and how many staff were involved, and received a one-line emailed response: ''We are currently finalising the process and will continue to communicate directly with the unions.''

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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