Screening advice 'meaningless'

A union wanting to know why the Southern District Health Board is trying to opt out of its breast-screening contract says it finally got hold of a crucial letter, but it was so heavily censored it was ''meaningless''.

Public Service Association southern region organiser Julie Morton said only two paragraphs were not blanked out in the letter in which Counties Manukau District Health Board advised it was withdrawing support for the southern service next year.

The Southern DHB is consulting staff on a proposal to let the National Screening Unit contract lapse in the middle of next year, meaning the service is likely to fall into private hands.

Counties Manukau provided external screen readings and peer support because the southern service did not have enough radiologists.

Submissions closed on Monday, the board having extended the consultation period by a week because of concerns the initial fortnight was too short.

Mrs Morton had been trying to get the letter from the start of the consultation period, and received it in the middle of last week. The board told her the blanked-out paragraphs were not relevant.

Mrs Morton said she could not make sense of the letter without more information, raising questions about what the DHB might be trying to hide.

''What is in that letter that they don't want me to see?''The surviving paragraphs stated Counties Manukau would continue providing support up to the cut-off date at the end of June, which was already known.

Mrs Morton said the July 9 date of the letter proved the board sat on the information for more than two months, without telling even the most senior clinical staff member.

Asked about the blanked-out paragraphs, patient services director Lexie O'Shea said by email: ''The letter confirms the discussion we had with the PSA in relation to Counties-Manukau inability to support our breast-screening service post June 2014, it also confirms the date the letter was received''.

Asked to cite the relevant sections of the Official Information Act under which it could withhold the information, a board spokesman said the DHB thought it had given the union what it had sought.

Because of the extra week for submissions, the final decision had been delayed by a week, to October 15.

-eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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