Pathology building on cards

Another new Dunedin hospital concession could soon be made, as the government considers constructing a separate pathology building following a backlash to cuts.

Dunedin-based president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science Terry Taylor said a standalone building was the main proposal made in the recent review of pathology services at the planned hospital.

It would be in the best interests of the health system, he said.

"If you think about where we are in the clinical services building here at the hospital, it’s pretty old and dilapidated ... We really need something much more fit for purpose."

He provided professional oversight in the investigation, which finished last month, but had not yet seen the review report.

It was being peer reviewed by independent laboratory experts, who were looking at the proposals, he said.

Laboratories throughout the country were in a bad state, but he hoped Dunedin would follow the example of Tauranga Hospital.

It already had a separate, fit-for-purpose building on the edge of its precinct that worked "very well" and had Lamson tubes running underground to transfer samples to the other buildings.

It seemed likely the government’s decision following the review would be to construct the new building, although it was too soon to be sure, he said.

"If it’s not what we want, we will be very, very vocal about that and I’ll be joining forces with the mayor again to protest."

The review follows a pathology cutback at the new hospital Mr Taylor described as "a fiasco".

Last December $90 million of cuts were announced along with a $110 million funding boost to address a $200 million budget blowout.

Space for pathology was cut from 1300sq m to 350sq m.

On-site pathology was reduced to acute clinical function only — a service Southern Community Laboratories had recommended a minimum of 500sq m for.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ) defended the change earlier this year, stating that full pathology services would be maintained through off-site provision.

The current hospital — which had about 1500sq m of laboratory space — already carried out some pathology services off site, and the practice was "common in modern hospitals".

However, the cut was slammed by Mr Taylor, who said pathology and laboratory services were critical to a functioning hospital system, yet were being treated as an afterthought.

An off-site location would make things difficult, and 70% to 80% of clinical decisions at the hospital relied on laboratory testing, he said at the time.

"It would be really nice for people to come to us and say ‘what do you actually need to do your job?’."

Following public and clinical backlash to the cuts, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced in April that $10million had been put back into the new hospital budget.

She also announced that two highly criticised aspects of the redesign — the removal of psychogeriatric beds and reduced space for pathology — would be the subject of investigations.

The psychogeriatric review would be finished in late August.

Pathology review documents were requested by the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act, but HNZ refused to supply them in a response last week, saying they were "currently under active consideration".

"Release would harm the orderly and effective conduct of executive government decision-making processes."

HNZ said on Friday the review had been completed and was being reviewed.

"Once the findings have been considered and our internal processes are complete, we will be in a position to update the public on the outcome."

Neither HNZ nor Dr Verrall said when this would be.

Dr Verrall said recommendations were being considered by HNZ.

"Once they have been formalised, my office will receive the decisions and recommend next steps."