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Limited access to same-day pathology in Bendigo a ‘backwards step’: GP


Matt Woodley


7/03/2019 3:22:35 PM

The reduced access has been attributed to privatising the regional hospital’s pathology lab; however, its operator disputes the claim.

Local GP Dr Talitha Barrett is frustrated that bloods collected from her practice must now travel two hours to Melbourne for tests.
Local GP Dr Talitha Barrett is frustrated that bloods collected from her practice must now travel two hours to Melbourne for tests.

Bendigo GP Dr Talitha Barrett says she has been unable to consistently obtain same-day results for urgent blood tests that for years had been sent to local public hospital, Bendigo Health.
 
She told newsGP the inability to access urgent same-day pathology is a ‘backwards step’ in terms of managing people in the community, and delays to urgent requests are putting patients at risk.
 
‘In theory, if I mark it urgent it should go to the local laboratory. But in practice, we’ve had multiple instances where that doesn’t occur,’ Dr Barrett said.
 
‘We used to have a flexible system where if you were cutting it fine you could take the bloods yourself, get them dropped off at pathology and they’d do them because there’s somebody there 24–7. But we really don’t have access to that anymore.
 
‘The ones that are collected from our practices go to Melbourne, which is a two-hour trip, at least.’
 
Bendigo Health privatised its pathology services in 2012, and Australian Clinical Labs (ACL) took up the contract in 2015.
 
ACL’s National Medical Director and Chief Pathologist, Professor Anthony Landgren, told newsGP he has had ‘no feedback from general practitioners at all’ regarding issues accessing same-day pathology results.
 
He also said it is difficult to comment on potential delays without knowing the patient or specific testing that had been requested, but denies services have decreased since ACL took over in 2015.
 
‘The service turnaround time is subject to a contract with Bendigo Health and we’ve met or exceeded the turnaround times on 98% of the testing that’s done,’ Professor Landgren said.
 
‘For haemotology there has been no change in the service. Basic tests are performed in Bendigo, and anything more complex gets separated and sent to [the Melbourne suburb of] Clayton.’
 
Professor Landgren declined to comment on any staffing changes since ACL began running the lab, or whether its budget had been reduced.
 
‘There has been a reduction in some areas, particularly microbiology, and there has been an increase in other areas, particularly anatomical pathology. That reflects the nature of the service and access to technology,’ he said.
 
‘In general terms, when it was a publicly run laboratory it was a much more expensive laboratory to run. Part of that is because it was very run down. When we took over the first thing we did was, across every department, major technology upgrades.
 
‘I actually worked in the old laboratory, which was across the road and it was just terrible. It was a horrible place to work, but the new laboratory is amazing.’
 
Professor Landgren added any change to service provision or staffing is done in consultation with the Medical Scientists Association of Victoria (MSAV), and denied that the union has been critical of its actions.
 
However, MSAV has said there are ‘real dangers’ in allowing private providers to deliver key clinical services, such as pathology, in public hospitals.
 
In August last year, MSAV was also critical of ACL’s decision to close Bendigo’s St John of God Hospital pathology laboratory, which it said placed ‘patient safety and healthcare standards at risk’.
 
‘ACL’s decisions to close pathology laboratories and sack scientists at these two Bendigo hospitals in reality dismantles pathology services and pulls back from a world class service as ACL claims,’ an MSAV statement read.
 
‘Scientists are reporting to the union that after waves of redundancies, the reduced staffing levels has increased workloads to the point where the laboratory can’t complete clinical testing in required timeframes, and local work that should be done in the hospital laboratory is being sent to ACL’s Clayton laboratory, resulting in even further delays.’

Bendigo Health and Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos declined to answer questions related to the apparent reduction in services.
 
Regardless of the reasons behind the apparent reduction in services, Dr Barrett’s position is clear.
 
‘Bendigo is a city of over 100,000 with a catchment of a quarter of a million. They should be able to do urgent bloods locally, for GPs as well as the hospital,’ she said.
 
‘It’s a backwards step in terms of managing people in the community. We need to make it easier, not harder.’
 
Professor Landgren has encouraged any GP who has experienced issues accessing urgent same-day pathology results to contact him directly at anthony.landgren@clinicallabs.com.au



Australian Clinical Labs pathology privatisation Victoria


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