An Australian-owned health provider hopes to take over the
Dunedin-based National Poisons Centre under the merger being
pushed by the Ministry of Health.
Yesterday, the Wellington-based general manager of Medibank
Health Solutions New Zealand said it was too soon to say
whether poisons would be separate from other helplines if
Medibank gets the contract.
It comes as Dunedin North Labour MP Dr David Clark has
launched a petition to save the national service provided in
Dunedin for nearly 50 years.
Medibank Health Solutions' New Zealand-operated Healthline is
one of seven the Ministry of Health wants to merge into a
mega phone service. The ministry wants affected groups to
agree how to run the service with a lead supplier, and
Medibank is in talks with the other groups in the hope of
leading the service.
The Dunedin-based National Poisons Centre, which is run by
the University of Otago at a reportedly significant financial
shortfall, wants to remain a stand-alone specialist service.
It argues it is not just a crisis line, but provides advice
to the highest levels of government, and maintains a
comprehensive poison database.
Medibank Health Solutions NZ general manager Andrea Pettett,
when contacted, said the proposal was a ''fantastic''
opportunity for Medibank, which has provided Healthline for
Ms Pettett could not guarantee anything about how the service
would be provided, and where staff would be based, should
Medibank be successful.
''Our conversations with the other 0800 providers are
Its Australian ownership, and the fact its three directors
were all based across the Tasman, should make no difference
to Medibank gaining the contract, or to public feeling about
''Why does that make a difference?'' she said.
Ms Pettett acknowledged figures published in an Otago
Daily Times opinion piece penned by Dr Clark showing
Otago University subsidised the service to the tune of $1.3
''Nobody's for loss, and if indeed the University of Otago
has been subsidising poisons line, then clearly that's going
to be a conversation that we're going to [have to have],'' Ms
It was too early to say whether poisons would remain a
separate phone line, or if calls would be mixed in with other
queries, which include gambling, depression, and immunisation
''All possibilities are still on the table. We haven't really
got our thinking in any particular direction yet.''
National Poisons Centre director Dr Wayne Temple said the
centre was still puzzled as to why poisons had been ''lumped
in'' with less urgent health needs. Dr Temple did not want to
see poison calls triaged by a generic health helpline, as it
would cause delays.
In a press release to highlight his online petition, Dr Clark
said the poison line should not have been included in the
''Having a poison crisis line answered by generic 0800 health
service operators is against world best practice and could
''No-one is against making savings when there is merit in
doing so, but it makes no sense when that comes at a cost to
the quality of service,'' Dr Clark said.