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Timaru changes

As a result of SCL’s review of operations from a cost saving perspective, and following the restructure in labs Nelson/Wairau which took effect in January, members at the Timaru Hospital laboratory were called to a meeting in February for the presentation of a proposal for change. Like Nelson and Wairau, the Medlab South Timaru was acquired by SCL following Sonic Healthcare Aust. exit from South Island operations following defeat in the Canterbury community pathology tender in 2012. Changes proposed at Timaru were:
• Reduction of FTE in Data Entry
• Change to shift start/finish times of MLScientists in all departments
• Transport of all community microbiology specimens to CSCL in Christchurch for processing with consequent considerable downsizing of the micro dept. staff complement.

Community (GP) specimens make up 65% of the numbers in microbiology department, not dissimilar to other NZ provincial labs that process both the hospital and GP specimens for the region. Because up to 40% of those GP specs arrive at the Timaru lab reception after the last courier, the plan was that those late arriving specs be plated out, incubated in Timaru, and the plates transported to CSCL arriving in Christchurch at about 4:30 for reading. There was comment in the local media from rural GPs unimpressed with the prospect of waiting this length of time for results.

For technical, logistical and service quality reasons the staff in Timaru Microbiology counter- proposed that GP specimens arriving after the last courier to CSCL be processed to completion in Timaru and that the staff numbers be reduced only to the level that would allow for that processing to occur. This staff reduction they proposed to achieve by several current staff reducing their FTE, but maintaining headcount in the department.

With the proviso that they will review the situation in 6months, SCL has agreed to this counter-proposal and the specimens arriving up until 4:30 PM will be sent to CSL for processing starting from June. They have also agreed to investigate with the South Canterbury DHB the current extravagant use of laboratory call services, which could render changes to lab staff shift times unnecessary. The reduction in Data entry FTE will be achieved by attrition.

…and the Healthscope sale?: Updating the long running saga of Healthscope’s owners, TPG Capital and The Carlyle Group, plans to divest themselves of the all or part of the company…………. In February it was announced that 2 merchant banks had finally been appointed to act as advisors on options to unload the business. In March the Healthscope executive team and their new advisors went on a 10 day tour to gauge investor interest in the USA and Asia. Amidst ample and expected spruiking of the company’s past glories and growth potential Healthscope’s Managing Director, Robin Cooke, remained coy on whether the preferred divestment option was a public float, a trade sale, or splitting the property assets from the operating assets and selling only one or the other. In early April the Australian business press reported that the call for expressions of interest, following that 10 day road-show, had resulted in 18 parties signing non-disclosure agreements for a look at the books.
Media interest since then has focussed on 2 of those suitors, Hospital Corporation of America, the USA’s largest ‘for-profit’ hospital operator, and Wesfarmers Ltd, Australia’s largest private employer (220,000 current employees!). Some analysts have raised eyebrows at Wesfarmers’s interest in Healthscope because a healthcare investment would be a considerable diversification for them (current investments mainly in retailing, manufacturing and chemicals). Other commentators have suggested this might be a somewhat old fashioned view of 21st Century capitalism, given that the past and present portfolio of Healthscope’s current owners includes airlines, armaments and everything in-between (even some of the chicken in NZ supermarkets – yes, TPG owns Inghams Poultry Ltd!!)
It is now being speculated that the bidding between these two mega companies, and others with similarly deep pockets, could push the eventual price for a trade sale over A$5B. The company was purchased by TPG and Carlyle group in 2010 for A$2.7B. The deadline for bids is reported to be 5 May.

What’s up in Wellington?

A glance over previous issues of UTM (archived on home page at NZMLWU website) will remind readers from outside the Wellington region of the progress investigating a Single Laboratory Service (SLS) for hospital specimens at the Capital Coast and Hutt Valley DHB (CCDHB and HVDHB). To summarise the project was first mooted in 2012 but it was May 2013 before a new structure was presented for consultation. A large number of submissions were lodged and it was December before the CCDHB and HVDHB delivered a decision document.
And the decision was……….. at this stage only changes to management structure would occur, to integrate laboratories at CCDHB and HVDHB, as a “foundation for future developments”.
Since release of that decision the positions of Lab Manager and Associate Lab Manager have been filled internally, there have been a few changes in report lines for some staff and services, and a Change Proposal for the immunology/serology service has been presented. That proposal essentially relocates the HVDHB I/S department to CCDHB with no loss of FTE within the single lab service. Also an internal contest has been run to find a name for the SLS, and a winner announcement is pending.
The decision document partly justified the verdict to not proceed in full at present with the SLS changes proposed, on grounds that the Regional Health Service landscape has changed since the 2012 launch of the SLS project. Specifically it was noted that the 3DHB (i.e. including Wairarapa DHB) Service Integration Development Unit (SIDU) launch of their Community Referred Laboratory Services Project (CRLSP) came a month after release of the SLS consultation document, and its outcome may have “substantial impact on the way that hospital laboratory services are delivered in future”. What do they mean by that?…………………
Indeed it was June 2013 that the CRLPS was launched and a Sub-regional Laboratory Working Group (SLWG) was established and went quickly to work and its 112 page Strategy document, which was published in August and presented at September Board meetings of the 3 DHBs. The document recommended a 2 stage process for procurement of Community Lab Services for the region: an initial call for expressions of interest (EOI) followed by a request for proposal (RFP) from selected EOI parties. As a part of the EOI process, respondents would be invited to provide “broader proposals that seek to integrate hospital and community services”. In November 2013 potential respondents to the EOI were allowed to visit the regions hospital laboratories to enable “providers who do not currently operate within the Wellington sub region, a better understanding of the existing interactions and infrastructure between the hospital and community laboratories” an email to lab CCDHB and HVDHB lab staff advised. The email continued: “DHB CEOs have decided that at this stage, the hospital laboratories should not be formally involved in the process. The reason for this is to allow the Boards the opportunity to consider the EOI responses before deciding on whether and how the hospital laboratories will be involved in the next stage of the process, and this will depend on what is received through the EOI process.”
The January 2014 update from SIDU advised that some responses to the EOI process – surprise surprise – included “broader proposals seeking to integrate hospital and community referred laboratory services”, and the 3 DHB Boards were “clarifying options around the involvement of our hospital labs in the next phase” before detailed proposals were sought from short-listed EOI respondents. This language was starting to seem increasingly furtive.
On 7 May the DHB CEO with responsibility for laboratories projects, Debbie Chin of CCDHB, removed most of the doubt about what SIDU has meant by “integrated laboratory services” over the course of this project. It was announced that before the development and release of the RFP document the SIDU will seek information from private sector providers about options for delivering integrated community and hospital services “such as exists in the Wairarapa”. In case you didn’t know Wairarapa has a single laboratory processing all lab requests, owned by a private provider. Parties will be asked for more detail on potential models such as alliancing or Joint ventures. From this the Board’s preferred model for the regional service will be decided for tender.
The 3DHB boards have decided that the “hospital laboratories involvement in the next phase” will consist only of staff inputting into the development of the RFP document and meeting with the private providers. The 7 May release assures CCDHB and HVVDHB lab staff that “hospital laboratory services will continue” but for the first time admits that a single provider of laboratory services in the region is an option.

Delegate and site stuff

It’s high time that NZMLWU members and office staff both, gave a big “thank you” to our site delegates. Theirs’ is a volunteer role and the jobs they do acting as conduit between labs and the NZMLWU office are not always apparent to members. Their efforts are essential to communications and site activities.

There are a few sites about the place where longstanding delegates have stepped back from the role and a replacement has yet to be organised. Now would be a good time for members at those sites to address this vacancy, as our bi-annual Delegate Training is to be held in the first week of August. This is an ideal opportunity for new delegates to learn about rights and responsibilities and meet others from around the country. 

Consultation: It’s important that members’ have some awareness around your employers’ engagement responsibilities with NZMLWU. Commendably a majority of lab employers understand fully their obligations around consultation e.g. on proposals for change in the workplace. But in the past year there have been a couple of occasions where an employer has considered consultation with NZMLWU has been complete because a site-delegate was in the room when a workplace change was presented to staff, and then proceeded with implementation of the change without due contact with the NZMLWU office. If you think the NZMLWU office should be receiving official notice of a change in your workplace, don’t be afraid to ask the employer if they have done so. Better that we are advised of an issue that doesn’t turn out to require office input, than we have to escalate an un-notified situation at a later date.

Personnel files: Communication with a couple of members recently has made it apparent that not all employees appreciate their rights in regard of personal information held by their employer. You are entitled to view all or part of your personal file at any time, with no requirement to explain why you want to do so. The HR office may not be able to arrange that viewing immediately, but cannot decline your request. You might be surprised what has been deemed worthy of record during your service.
Your membership of NZMLWU includes approval for us to act as your representative, in the event of an ‘individual employment relations issue’ arising (yes, we mean an investigation with potential for disciplinary action). It is usual practice for your NZMLWU representative to request a copy of your personnel file as a part of preparing to represent you.

Bargaining Update

The following groups have bargaining for renegotiation of their CEAs in 2014:
• Lab Services Rotorua in September
• Aotea Pathology in December
• labs covered by the DHB/NZBS MECA in August.
The DHB/NZBS MECA is the CEA that covers the largest number of NZMLWU members. August is not that far away and a meeting will be held on 12 May of site delegates to discuss issues, claims and strategy. The NZMLWU National Executive will hold a meeting the following day.

Hi I’m Mandy. I work at Canterbury Southern Community Laboratories (CSCL), coming across from Medlab South as part of that sale in 2012.

I’ve been in labs for 17 years, first at Transfusion Medicine at Christchurch Hospital (later NZBS). After being made redundant while on Maternity Leave, I started working for Medlab South. I’ve been a NZMLWU site delegate since 2008.
I am a married mum of 4 kids, ranging from 23 to 5 years of age. Hockey takes up a lot of my out of work hours – I’m a qualified umpire and am on the committee at Hornby Hockey Club. I can be found every Saturday night during the hockey season, cooking the fish and chips at our busy clubrooms.
The SCL purchase of Medlab South in 2012 meant that at collective bargaining we had to combine the CEAs covering the 2 groups of members, which had different expiry dates, different pay scales and even within those 2 CEAs there were varying entitlements due to previous lab mergers and purchases across the whole South Island. Phew!! You can see why that all took a while! We now have a CEA with mostly consistent terms and conditions for all members, though there is still a sizable ‘scheduling’ of some provisions which we couldn’t reach agreement with the employer to extend to all members. Something to work on in future…………………..
The community pathology service in Christchurch has changed a lot since I started at MedLab South in 2005. Given the turmoil of the 2012 merger (and various natural disasters) we at CSCL can heartily empathise with our colleagues at other SCL labs facing restructure and change, particularly at Wairau. Things have largely settled here in CHCH since our merger; I’m happy to report that the 2 sets of step-kids from both former laboratories have worked well together to form one family and keep this vital service going.

To download a copy click here.

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