Concerns over pathology building

Dunedin medical laboratory scientist Terry Taylor says the new hospital needs a pathology...
Dunedin medical laboratory scientist Terry Taylor says the new hospital needs a pathology building that can continue to support the hospital in a disaster event. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Concerns are being raised the new Dunedin hospital pathology building will not be resilient enough to provide services in a disaster.

Immediate past-president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science Terry Taylor said constructing a new pathology building incapable of supporting the hospital in a large earthquake was not justifiable.

Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (HNZ) said last week the proposed pathology building was not legally required to have the importance level four (IL4) features that would keep it operational in a disaster, and point of care testing would be on hand at the IL4 inpatient building.

However, Mr Taylor warned yesterday this option would not be enough to meet demand following a large-scale disaster, when the hospital would be inundated with patients.

"We need the [pathology building] to be there, operating at scale," he said.

Hospitals relied on pathology services, such as blood tests and other diagnostics, to function day to day.

The pathology building would need to be IL4 so it could continue to support the new hospital after a disaster, he said.

The Christchurch earthquake had proved the importance of the service, and he urged HNZ to listen to industry experts.

"In our view, of course pathology needs to be built to that standard.

"Do it once and do it right."

The new building — which now faced an uncertain future following the change of government — also needed to be constructed soon to provide support for the new hospital on opening, he said.

Most of the current hospital buildings are IL4, according to data released by HNZ under the Official Information Act in 2022.

The information showed seven of the 10 listed Dunedin hospital buildings were in this category.

However, the Fraser Building and the Children’s Pavilion were listed as IL3, and the Psychiatric Services Building was IL2.

Dunedin city councillor David Benson-Pope also pushed for the new pathology building to be IL4, calling it the "hidden elephant" of the project.

It was a matter of considerable public interest given the pathology services area at the current hospital would not be usable for much longer, he said.

The IL4 inpatient building would be self-contained, with emergency provisions for fuel, power and water, and it would be able to withstand almost anything, he said.

"Just like the hospital, if it's to operate in a natural disaster of some kind, it needs to be built to that level, " Cr Benson-Pope said.

He had not received a clear answer from HNZ about what level the pathology building would be built to.

HNZ delivery of infrastructure and investment group director Monique Fouwler did not directly comment on what level was envisioned for the potential pathology building, but told the ODT it was not required to be IL4 under the Building Code.

The new inpatient building would be IL4 and would be used in a post-disaster situation.

It would have point of care testing available in ED, operating theatres, critical care, birthing and neonatal intensive care units, she said.

Plans to provide a separate pathology building within 1km of the new hospital were announced by the Labour government last September, responding to a backlash after space for pathology in the inpatient building was cut from 1300sq m to 350sq m.

The recommendation from the review team of experts was a single 4000sq m off-site laboratory at an initial cost estimate of about $45 million.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti did not say whether the building would go ahead under National when asked in January.

HNZ did not respond to questioning on whether a business case was under way before ODT deadline yesterday.