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Staff and customers to bear brunt in SA Pathology savings 'hit list'

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Staff streamlining, collection centre closures and shifting costs to clients are among a raft of measures detailed on a “hit list” of SA Pathology budget savings.

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The draft implementation plan, following recommendations last month in an independent PricewaterhouseCoopers review, has been distributed to stakeholders for consultation, after Treasurer Rob Lucas last year demanded significant efficiencies and threatened to privatise the service if they were not delivered.

The document was made public today by the State Opposition, which branded it a “hit list”.

The 25 first-year priorities detailed include an organisational restructure to “realign the staffing mix in the collection centres by replacing Nurses with Phlebotomists, resulting in lower employment costs, with analysis to determine if and where nursing roles are required to work to their full scope of practice”.

“This will bring SA Pathology in line with some public pathology services and in privately operated collection centres,” the draft says.

Laboratory staffing efficiencies are also canvassed, along with the mooted “collection centre footprint review and profitability improvement strategy” – which includes “the closure of non-profitable collection centres” where alternative providers are available.

Customers could also bear the brunt, with the plan outlining the development of a pricing model “that reflects the full cost of delivering services, focusing first on diagnostic testing”.

“SA Pathology currently provides all diagnostic services on 85 per cent of MBS [Medicare Benefits Schedule] rates, while other state public pathology providers use a cost-recovery model,” the report says.

It also proposed a charge for “unprofitable tests that are private referred and/or community work”, with “a detailed cost analysis required to engage with General Practice and private providers”.

“SA Pathology will continue providing a full range of tests for public work and will explore the opportunities to only undertaking private work that is profitable,” it says.

The draft also contemplates removing ‘non urgent’ tests from hospital laboratories and consolidating the service to a single site.

Labor Health spokesman Chris Picton called on the Government to “reverse these proposed cuts to SA Pathology that would cause longer delays for lifesaving test result”.

“These cuts come as SA Pathology is facing the brunt of diagnosing thousands of flu cases each week in this unprecedented early surge in the flu season… this is not the time for cuts,” he said.

“All of these cuts are worrying… all of these cuts potentially could make the situation worse.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the Government had been “open and transparent when it comes to changes at SA Pathology”, arguing that Labor also sought efficiencies in the service.

“We released, in full and unredacted, the PwC report. We have consulted with hundreds of staff and the unions about our short and longer term plans. We’ve ruled out privatisation over the next 12 months,” he said.

“The Government hasn’t told SA Pathology what to do – SA Pathology staff and managers have come up with the plan.”

He said “all of the key stakeholders have acknowledged there are efficiencies that can be made within SA Pathology, while vehemently opposing privatisation”.

“I now look forward to working with those stakeholders about how we can make this agency more commercial and deliver better bang for the taxpayer buck,” he said.

Lucas told reporters there were “potential savings of $35-45 million a year if they actually run SA Pathology in the same way other public pathology providers are run in the others states”.

“The Treasury viewpoint is, ‘hey there’s significant savings to the taxpayers of SA in relation to providing the same quality of service other states provide – you’re going to need to achieve those savings’,” he said.

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