Delivery of pathology lab doubted

A new document has revealed the estimated cost of the new Dunedin hospital pathology building is $45 million — but has also cast doubt about its delivery

The new building was promised by Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall last month, although the cost was not provided.

The Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ) document, written in August but made public this month, detailed the results of a review of the new hospital’s pathology services and estimated the cost of a 4000sqm off-site laboratory would be $45m.

Medical Laboratory scientist Terry Taylor said the new building was urgently needed, as pathology space had been sub-par even before it was cut from 1300sqm to 359sqm last December.

He was worried by the document’s recommendation of a pneumatic tube running between the new and old hospital, for which $5m was budgeted.

This could be an excuse to keep the service where it was and push back construction on the new pathology building indefinitely, he said.

"It’s no win for us. Look at the staff here, they’re still going to be working in a crappy environment and the clinical services building that’s ready to fall over."

The document asked the HNZ board to agree a single off-site service was the best option, and approve work on finding location and funding options.

It was also asked to approve the installation of a pneumatic tube from the new hospital to the current hospital pathology laboratory, to transfer samples and maintain services.

"This will allow time to investigate the option for a new integrated service both in terms of location and funding."

"The provision of the tube will not be a regrettable spend as the optioning around the location of the new service is likely to be somewhere between the current laboratory site and the NDH."

Mr Taylor said the $5m could be saved if construction started now, allowing the laboratory to open alongside the hospital.

Moreover it would mean they would finally have a quality laboratory space after being previously treated as an afterthought.

Their services were vital to the hospital, and many clinical decisions depended on the outcome of laboratory testing.

It would not be possible to continue operating from the current site for another 10 years, he warned.

The document said recommendation from the review team of experts was for a single 4000sqm off-site laboratory close to the new hospital.

The initial cost estimate for this was about $45m.

"This option is recommended as the most efficient in terms of delivering pathology services. However, no location for this building has been identified and no funding is available."

It was not acceptable to build the new hospital without pathology services and clear and specific communication that this would not be the case was needed, the document said.

Mr Taylor said the best thing about the document was that it acknowledged a stand-alone building was needed for the hospital, which was what pathologists had advocated for.

It showed "the complete lack of expert knowledge" that had gone into earlier planning on the issue.

Millions of dollars that could have been used to pay for a new laboratory had been wasted because the appropriate experts were not consulted in the first instance, he said.

He urged the next government to get on and build it, setting a precedent for high-quality laboratory services in New Zealand.

"This shouldn’t be a political football."

Dr Verrall said the building would be no more than 1000m from the new hospital when announcing the decision last month.

Size and cost details were not provided, although she said it would be funded from the health capital envelope if Labour was elected.

Dr Verrall’s office did not answer questions asked by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, instead responding that HNZ should be approached on issues about the new hospital.

"It is their build, their review and will be their business case, too," a spokesman said.