Pathology services maintained at Stawell

MANAGEMENT at Stawell Regional Health has welcomed news that St John of God Pathology will honour its current contract for the provision of services at Stawell Hospital.

St John of God Pathology had announced in July that it had advised hospital management, local medical staff and pathology staff in Stawell, Ararat, Kerang, and Kyabram of a proposal to provide a more sustainable pathology service without laboratories on site.

It was announced that 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.

As a result, the proposed changes would have seen urgent tests still conducted on site, but using instrumentation located in the hospital wards. All other testing would be conducted at regional laboratories in Bendigo, Ballarat and Horsham under the proposal.

However, Stawell Regional Health acting chief executive officer, Liz McCourt, said she had met with the chief executive officer of St John of God Pathology, Michael Hogan earlier this week, to reiterate her organisation's position in relation to the proposed changes.

Mrs McCourt said she once again made it clear that Stawell Regional Health would not be accepting St John of God Pathology's offer.

"I am pleased to confirm that St John of God Pathology will honour their contract to provide Pathology laboratory services for Stawell Regional Health," she said.

"This announcement comes despite significant pressure from CEO Michael Hogan for Stawell Regional Health to accept their proposal of point of care testing machines and closure of the laboratory.

"We have previously enjoyed a good relationship with St John of God Pathology and I regret their attempt to railroad or pressure the organisation into a decision that was not in the best interests of our community.

"I am pleased that they have come around to our way of thinking."

Mrs McCourt said the backflip would mean a great deal to the Stawell and district community.

It would have seen the Oncologists denied access to fast blood tests to assess people's health in preparation for chemotherapy. The point of care units cannot test for platelets, the red blood cells, which are an important indicator in decision making for providing chemotherapy on a given day to a person. Inability to provide on-site lab testing would cause unnecessary and potentially dangerous delays.

Mrs McCourt said as a further consequence, there would not be on-site blood matching for surgical cases such as joint replacement surgery or hysterectomies.

"Stawell Regional Health is pleased for our community members, the staff who care for them and for our hard working colleagues in the St John of God Pathology laboratory, who would have been negatively impacted by this initiative," she said.

"We prefer not to deal publicly with such issues into the future and regret that St John of God saw fit to make a public announcement without adequate or appropriate consultation."

St John of God Pathology's chief executive officer, Michael Hogan, said it was always his organisation's intention to honour the current contract to 2017, but options needed to be considered to make the service more sustainable going forward.

"We have a contractual obligation to provide the services until 2017 and we never said we wouldn't meet those obligations," Mr Hogan said.

"Our proposal was to put forward a new model that would enable us to provide a more sustainable pathology service at Stawell and Ararat in the future."

Mr Hogan said St John of God Pathology would continue negotiations with the boards at both Stawell and Ararat hospitals to develop a more sustainable service model.

"The model we presented has clearly been rejected by Stawell Regional Health," he said.

"However, we will be continuing our negotiations with hospital management to come up with a suitable model that is sustainable.

"We are in no way wanting to remove services. It's a matter of making necessary changes to make the service sustainable. St John of God Pathology is eager to continue being the service provider for Stawell and Ararat hospitals, we are saying we just want to do it in a different way to ensure it is sustainable.

"If it isn't the current proposal that is accepted, then we will need to find another option."

Liz McCourt advised this has been a difficult issue for both St John Of God and Stawell Regional Health.

“The matter has been satisfactorily resolved and we look forward to continuing to work with St John of God for the next three years," Mrs McCourt said.

"This is important as it is in the best interests of the community and Stawell Regional Health.”

Unit Manager Jan Sherwell in the new Oncology centre at Stawell Regional Health.

Unit Manager Jan Sherwell in the new Oncology centre at Stawell Regional Health.

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