Protesters take lab battle on to street

By Martin Johnston

American pathologist Dr Jeffrey Winslow has vowed not to work for Auckland's controversial new medical laboratory.

"I'm applying for licensure in Australia right now," Dr Winslow said yesterday amid a protest against the awarding of the community laboratory contract to Labtests Auckland.

"That's a contingency plan. We plan to win this battle," he told the Herald.

New Zealand is already short of pathologists and there are fears that laboratory changes nationally risk driving more overseas.

In Auckland, the region's three health boards decided in July to dump the existing community laboratory, Diagnostic Medlab, in favour of Labtests from next July, reducing their costs by more than $15 million a year compared with the present deal.

Diagnostic is challenging the decision in court. Labtests has said it hopes to hire Diagnostic staff.

About 150 people joined yesterday's hour-long protest - organised by the Nurses Organisation and the Northern Chemical Workers Union - against the contract change.

Many were Diagnostic staff; some were Auckland District Health Board employees.

Chubb security workers tried to prevent the protest - on the footpath outside Auckland City Hospital - from encroaching on to health board land.

"DHBs you've got it wrong," the protesters chanted. "Auckland stand tall, don't let your lab fail," said one of the forest of swaying placards.

Dr Winslow came to New Zealand to work for Diagnostic in April. He took a 40 per cent pay cut but was attracted for lifestyle reasons: he is a scuba diver and snowboarder.

"Seeing how united my colleagues are, it's hard for me to imagine going to work for a lab that has to start from scratch.

"A lab this size cannot be created overnight.

"A lab that's struggling to get going, that's understaffed, that's overwhelmed, which is what I think [Labtests Auckland] will be, is not an environment in which I care to work."

Labtests says its lab will be of equal or better quality.

An Auckland board committee meeting 100m from the protest heard from the board's chief executive, Garry Smith, that the company was ahead of schedule in its implementation plan.

Five Diagnostic staff were allowed past the security guards to present to the committee three boxes containing the 100,000-signature petition seeking reconsideration of the contract.

Board chairman Wayne Brown had previously not given approval, but said the group could enter when they turned up anyway.

Mr Brown said later the boards would not revisit their contract decision.

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