HEALTH services in Stawell and Ararat are hopeful there will be no immediate changes to pathology services now provided by St John of God Pathology at both the Ararat and Stawell Hospitals.
St John of God Pathology has advised hospital management, medical staff and pathology staff in Victoria's regional towns of Stawell, Ararat, Kerang and Kyabram of a proposal to provide a more sustainable pathology service without laboratories on site.
Four laboratory scientists are currently employed at Stawell Regional Health. Any proposed changes would have an enormous impact on these staffing levels at the Stawell Hospital, something that doesn't sit well with the acting chief executive officer, Liz McCourt.
Ms McCourt said she believed the proposal was put forward without any regard to communities such as Stawell.
"St John of God have taken unilateral action without regard to their obligations to Stawell Regional Health or our regional communities," Ms McCourt said.
"These actions will have a detrimental impact on the provision of services.
"The hospital has a strong contractual agreement with St John of God Pathology that was entered into 12 months ago and we will be seeking to exercise our rights under that contract, to enable us to continue to deliver high quality, safe services to our community."
Ms McCourt said she believed more consultation was required before proposals such as this are put forward.
"We are concerned that St John of God have taken the step of issuing this media release, when there clearly needs to be more consultation and discussion around these issues," she said.
"This action would seem to be inconsistent with the values of St John of God."
St John of God Pathology chief executive officer Michael Hogan said the current funding for pathology services in public hospitals was inadequate to support the significant laboratory infrastructure that St John of God Pathology has in place in a number of small sites, given the relatively low volume and complexity of pathology testing required.
The proposed changes would see urgent tests still conducted on site but using instrumentation located in the hospital wards. The use of this instrumentation within hospitals has proven to be effective in providing immediate pathology results to clinicians.
All other testing would be conducted at regional laboratories in Bendigo, Ballarat and Horsham under the proposal.
St John of God Pathology Chief Executive Officer, Michael Hogan said the proposed alternative model of service delivery would be more efficient and sustainable, given the current funding available to pathology services, and would enable a pathology service to continue to be delivered to regional Victoria.
"We are confident that we will be able to continue to provide a safe and effective service for local doctors and patients," Mr Hogan said.
"We assure the community that all patients at the hospitals in these areas will continue to receive high quality and timely pathology results.
"We also assure local doctors who refer outpatient work to us that they will continue to receive high quality, timely pathology services."
Mr Hogan said 14 laboratory staff across the four sites would be impacted by the proposed laboratory closures. These positions relate to scientific roles.
Staff employed in specimen collection and courier services will not be impacted.
"We are endeavouring to provide redeployment opportunities for these employees and we will support them through this process. We respect that this is a very difficult time for our staff," he said.
As one of the largest health care providers in Australia, St John of God Health Care has provided a service to regional Victoria for over 100 years.
Discussions with hospital administration and doctors are still being conducted.