The expert panel inquiring into laboratory mistakes meets today and tomorrow in Wellington, for members' first face-to-face meeting, Ministry of Health chief medical officer Dr Don Mackie says.

An inquiry was launched after revelations three women had mastectomies following incorrect diagnoses, including one this year in Dunedin when two breast biopsy specimens were swapped.

It was also revealed a woman had part of her jaw cut away, following a specimen mix-up at the University of Otago Dental Hospital in Dunedin.

Dr Mackie said the panel would consider if far-reaching changes to laboratory practices were needed. It was unclear if there was a systemic problem, or whether New Zealand's laboratory error rate was high by international standards.


He confirmed the panel of 10 members would consider disturbing public statements from clinicians, including PathLab Waikato pathologist Ian Beer, who told the Herald on Sunday a five-day diagnosis deadline for breast cancer was putting pathologists under too much pressure.

Another pathologist publicly described New Zealand laboratory processes as "factory-styled".

A report filed by Southern District Health Board into the breast biopsy mix-up at Southern Community Laboratories would be considered as part of the review, Dr Mackie said.

As well as several pathologists, the panel included a consumer representative, Dr Mackie said. The inquiry would take until the end of next month, he said.

Awareness of errors was very high in laboratories at present because of the scrutiny, meaning patients could have confidence in them in the meantime, he said.'