Doubt over service linked to breast screening

Another southern health service may be outsourced, and medical unions say the health board should have foreseen the situation last year, when it decided to stop providing a related service.

Instead, the Southern District Health Board was embarking on a process that felt ''last minute'' and rushed, Resident Doctors' Association and Association of Professionals and Executive Employees national secretary Deborah Powell said.

Dr Powell said diagnostic mammography was now an ''even smaller service'' because the board is giving up its national breast-screening contract for Otago and Southland.

Dr Powell believed the service would be outsourced, although no details had been confirmed.

Urgent preliminary meetings were called this week to discuss the service. ''It's rushed, it is last-minute, it makes everyone feel it's a fait accompli; why bother [consulting]?''Southern needs to take a good hard look at itself in terms of how it's engaging with staff.

''It's so last-minute the decision's probably inevitable.''

Dr Powell said the board should have looked at the screening and diagnostic services together last year when it needed to make a decision about the screening contract.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell agreed the two services should have been considered in tandem.

''My understanding is that management did not understand this. As surprising as that would seem, that highlights their level of lack of knowledge.''

This month, the Ministry of Health announced Pacific Radiology Group would be the provider of breast-screening in the South from the middle of this year.

The board blamed a lack of radiologists for its decision to relinquish the contract. Patient services director Lexie O'Shea said in a statement the board was consulting staff about the service, and one option was to ''partially outsource some functions''.

Mrs O'Shea said it was not possible for the board to consult on the two services in tandem, because diagnostic breast-care was a more complex service, with links to other health board services.

''This has therefore taken substantially more time to identify the necessary requirements to be provided within a diagnostic breast-care service in the future and the ongoing relationships that are necessary with other clinical services.''

The timing was also co-ordinated to minimise disruption associated with the transition to the new breast-screening contract.

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