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Labtests' service is slowly improving, a leading medical group says, but some Auckland GPs strongly disagree with this assessment.
ProCare Health's chairman, Dr Peter Didsbury, said yesterday: "We are seeing improvements, but it's slow. Our membership are still experiencing frustration and having difficulty providing care because of the time it's taking to overcome some of the difficulties."
But Dr Carmel Built, of the Three Kings Family Medical Centre, said last night that she and many of her GP colleagues considered that the problems encountered with the new regional provider of community laboratory services were as serious and as frequent now as when it started more than a month ago.
"In our experience, it is unsafe and there is an ongoing series of near misses, where significant poor patient outcomes have to date been avoided only by a combination of good luck and the vigilance of general practitioners," she and her medical partner Dr Ian Rapson wrote in a five-page letter to the Herald.
They cited turnaround times for test results, house-call problems, failure to report a result, and a highly abnormal result last weekend only being emailed to Dr Built, not phoned through.
"In the last two weeks we have had two patients with very serious illnesses that required hospital admissions but their diagnosis was delayed due to errors in procedures at Labtests.
"These are just a few of the large number of patients at our practice whose care has been adversely affected because Labtests' service has been less than satisfactory."
After the Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, received a series of complaints about Labtests and raised his concerns with the region's three district health boards last month, the DHBs appointed seven of their own officials to take control of safety and quality at Labtests and the company's Australian owner sent in its own senior managers to replace the chief executive and get the operation on track.
Labtests did not respond to the Built-Rapson complaints yesterday, instead sending the Herald a copy of the letter of acting chief executive Paul Waterson and medical director Dr Richard Lloydd to the region's practitioners, circulated on Monday.
It outlines measures the company is taking "to correct the problems you have reported". These include:
* Critically abnormal results will be faxed and the practitioner phoned.
* All samples testing for blood coagulation - which relates to blood-thinning medication - are now marked "urgent".
* Procedures for home-visit sample collections will undergo "substantial reworking".
"Instances of delayed results, missed tests or longer than acceptable turnaround times will be addressed individually with each practice."
Labtests also referred the Herald to several health groups, including primary health organisation (PHO) Te Kupenga o Hoturoa, which has 33,000 enrolled patients.
The PHO's chief executive, Neil Woodhams, said the initial problems with Labtests were largely over.
"We are not getting reports from our providers of major issues and haven't been for two or three weeks."