Patients Will Bear The Brunt In Lab Funding Decision -- NZMA

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) is hugely disappointed that two South Island District Health Boards have chosen to stop paying for laboratory tests for the patients of private specialists.

Otago and Southland DHBs have now made this decision, despite being cautioned to take a different approach.

"This decision will have patients in these two areas receiving a lesser level of health funding than those in 17 other DHBs. It is yet another example of 'postcode health' -- where what you have to pay for is determined by where you live," said Dr Peter Foley, NZMA Chairman.

"This extremely short-sighted move will have a very small impact on the DHBs' budgets, but may have very serious health consequences for the people in those regions."

Charging for laboratory tests ordered by private specialists may to lead to:

  • A drop-off in laboratory tests undertaken as a number of people find they can no longer afford to have such tests undertaken privately,
  • A decrease in the number of precautionary screening tests undertaken for such diseases as diabetes and melanoma,
  • An increase in pressure on public hospital waiting lists,
  • An increase in serious health problems.

"The public health system is under extreme pressure, so it is unsurprising that many people choose to see a private specialist. In fact, going private helps ease the pressure on the public system," Dr Foley said.

"Patients of private specialists are not necessarily well-off, or have health insurance, and many make sacrifices to afford their treatment. It is important that patients do not now go without these important tests, which may make them sicker and compromise their care.

"This move by Otago and Southland DHB disrupts the symbiotic relationship between the public and private health sectors in their region."

The DHBs continue to pay for laboratory tests ordered by General Practitioners, midwives and other primary care practitioners in the private sector, so it is illogical for private specialists to be singled out in this way.

The NZMA is very concerned that there is no nationally agreed policy on this issue and it has not been debated at a national level with the community or medical profession. We have raised this issue many time with the Ministry and Ministry of Health, and we shall continue do to so.

Laboratory services are an essential part of our health service, and vital for the community's health. Decisions about services should not be made just for cost reasons. Sustainability, quality, safety, and equity across the entire country are also important.