The South's breast-screening service may come to a
''standstill'' because the Southern District Health Board is
refusing to honour mammographers' redundancies, the
Association of Professionals and Executive Employees (Apex)
The board is in a standoff with mammographers, who this week
declined job offers with new provider Pacific Radiology Group
because they will not receive redundancy if they accept.
PRG, which takes over the service on August 4, said yesterday
it would bring mammographers south if necessary. However, the
union said mammographers were in short supply, so that might
not be easily done.
Apex spokesman Rhys Walters, of Auckland, said the issue was
clear-cut and the health board was in breach of contract. It
decided to exit a national screening contract, which was then
awarded to another provider, and the board must pay out
employees' entitlements. ''It is ridiculous. They are going
to have to be working really hard to get something sorted out
by [August 4].''
In one case, a mammographer was entitled to 93% of her annual
salary in redundancy.
Mammographers were ''deeply frustrated'' by the situation, in
which they felt caught between serving patients, and
receiving their legal entitlement.
''They're mammographers ... What that means is they are
actually a particular kind of person; they live for the
patients, they take their role very seriously and
The mammographers, all but one of whom was in the union, were
also not happy with some of the terms offered by PRG, and the
parties were in talks over conditions.
''You can hardly blame them. The mammographers are being
presented with an awful deal: either they sign with the new
employer on diminished terms and lose their severance
payments, or they stay on with the DHB with a rather grim and
''The DHB will at least, for a period, still be required to
employ the Apex members, though what it will have them do is
unknown. The whole thing is a shambles and the mammographers
and the public they serve are stuck in the middle,'' Mr
Complicating things was that the board was outsourcing the
much smaller diagnostic breast-care service to PRG. The work
for the two services was done by the same pool of 15
In a ''farcical'' move, the board said there were a small
number of redeployments available, and had requested
mammographers' CVs, but had not said what the jobs were.
Redeployment was not straightforward for breast-screening
mammographers as they were specialised and could need
retraining if they joined a different service.
Public Service Association southern region organiser Julie
Morton said her own clerical staff members had faced a
similar dilemma over redundancy pay, but unlike
mammographers, were not in a position to decline job offers.
The union this week lodged a formal dispute with the Southern
District Health Board, requiring it to act in accordance with
the employment agreement. The board was ''completely
dysfunctional'' and had not taken basic steps necessary in
the process. There were many unanswered questions and issues
about which the union had not been able to obtain
PRG chief executive Dr Lance Lawler said he was an ''eternal
optimist'' and believed the situation would be sorted. If
not, PRG would have to bring staff to the South.
''We're hopeful that common sense will prevail, but
ultimately if we don't have staff to run the programme, we'd
have to do something. We're in the hot seat now.''
The union's dispute with the board was over money, he said,
adding the mammographers had misinterpreted a condition in
PRG's offer they objected to.
Health board patient services director Lexie O'Shea said in a
statement the board was ''committed to ensuring'' the service
was provided beyond August 4, and would work with the
Mrs O'Shea said the board was working through the redundancy
pay issue with workers' representatives.
''We are confident that the service change will be seamless
for women and are putting a great deal of work into
overcoming any obstacles to ensure that this happens.''
• Screening provided to women aged 45-69 under contract with
National Screening Unit.
• Mammographers produce images of the body using radiation,
ultrasound or magnetic fields, to help doctors provide
diagnosis and treatment.
• Service caters for about 18,000 women in Otago and
• Smaller diagnostic breast-care service also affected.