Union says lab closure could put patients at risk

The pathologists’ union says the closure of a laboratory at the Kyneton hospital could put patients at risk and restrict the type of procedures the health service can offer.

Medical Scientists Association of Victoria secretary Paul Elliott said the closure of the Australian Clinical Labs facility at the end of the week could result in the loss of services “critical to patient safety”.

“If you give [the wrong blood to] a patient who's critically ill and critically in need of additional blood it can obviously be catastrophic, it can cause the death of the patient,” he said.

“If it’s the case that Kyneton [District Health Service] is proposing to continue obstetric surgery and other clinical services which are currently being supported by the pathology lab without the pathology lab then there’s clearly a patient risk,” he said.

But KDHS chief executive officer Maree Cuddihy said she had no concerns about patient care or delays in treatment following the lab’s closure, with the hospital’s current out-of-hours testing services to be extended to cover any gap.

“We’d still be able to do that immediate testing from point of care, point of service analysers,” she said.

“For complex tests, they will be picked up and taken to Melbourne and that’s what currently exists.”

A spokeswoman for ACL said the opening of a smaller “collection centre” run by another pathology company inside the rooms of a general practitioner who is renting space from the hospital had a “detrimental effect on patient numbers” rendering the dedicated laboratory “unsustainable”.

She said while the decision to close the laboratory was a difficult one, there would be “no difference in turnaround time” for most tests.

“The lab had small numbers and only a portion of the more complex work was processed at the hospital laboratory so for most tests there will be no difference in turn-around time,” she said.

Ms Cuddihy said it may have been preferable if the GP had chosen to use the existing pathology service but the hospital’s hands were tied in that it was legally restricted from “unreasonably” withholding the doctor’s right to sublet.

“We might have hoped that was the case but it isn’t what happened, they had the right to sublet in their lease and that’s the decision that they made,” she said.

“We know that staff have had a long-term relationship with the hospital and we’re sorry about that but it’s not something that we were able to control.”

Mr Elliott said having two competing service providers operate on the same site was “destined to fail” and called on the state government to address the “broken” model in the wake of a cluster of avoidable perinatal deaths at Djerriwarrh Health Services in Bacchus Marsh.

“What’s important is that the hospital has an absolute responsibility to maintain a pathology lab to ensure and guarantee patient safety,” he said.

“Unless this is addressed we’re going to have another Djerriwarrh on our hands.”

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the government was working closely with ACL to ensure a smooth transition of services to a new pathology provider.

“[KDHS] are investigating a range of models for providing pathology and blood bank services to ensure they will continue to be available into the future,” she said.