News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Increased Testing Demands from Physicians is Putting New Zealand Clinical Laboratories Under Severe Stress

Following the loss of its histology accreditation, pressure on APS laboratory continues to mount

Government-run healthcare systems around the world often under-invest as demand grows and new healthcare technologies enter clinical practice. One such example is taking place in New Zealand, where public pathology and medical laboratory services are under extreme stress as physician test orders exceed the ability of the island nation’s clinical laboratories to keep up.

“The escalating pressure is complicating what was already a very difficult rescue job at one of the country’s busiest labs—Community Anatomic Pathology Services (APS),” RNZ reported. In 2023, APS lost its histology accreditation after it came to light that lab workers were not only exposed to toxic chemical levels at the facility, but that patients were waiting weeks for test results to return from the lab.

This follows a 2021 report from consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to the Auckland District Health Board in which New Zealand health authorities received warnings to improve pathology systems.

“The service is in crisis mode and, without urgent investment … there is a real risk that it will fail. The changes required are of such urgency that it is recommended that they be placed at the top of the agenda,” the report reads, RNZ reported.

“The size of New Zealand’s economy is restricting what our country spends on health. Health is already the second highest demand on the New Zealand tax dollar,” wrote Andrew Blair, CMInstD (above), then General Manager of Royston Hospital, Hastings, New Zealand, in an article he penned for Jpn Hosp, the journal of the Japan Hospital Association. “The tolerance of New Zealanders would be challenged if a government attempted to increase taxes further to meet the growing demands for expenditure on health, but at the same time the population’s expectations are increasing. This is the challenging situation we face today.” For New Zealand’s clinical laboratories, the demand for testing is increasing annually as the country’s population grows. (Photo copyright: Blair Consulting.)

Increased Demand on APS Leads to Problems

Established in 2015, APS tests thousands of anatomic and tissue samples yearly and is utilized by approximately a third of NZ’s population, according to RNZ.

The big story, however, is that from 2022 to 2023 utilization increased by a third. “The overall increasing demand is greater than the capacity of the service,” Te Whatu Ora (Health New Zealand), the country’s publicly-funded healthcare system, told RNZ.

As planned care increased, public hospitals started outsourcing operations to private surgical centers. A domino effect ensued when all of those samples then made their way to APS. There was an “increased volume of private surgery being carried out by 600 specialists in the region and 2,000 general practitioners, with up to 450 histology cases a day,” RNZ noted, adding, “The backlog has hit turnaround times for processing samples, which had been deteriorating.”

To make matters even more dire, working conditions at the country’s clinical labs is unfavorable and deteriorating, with short staffing, outdated workspaces and equipment, and exposure to dangerous chemicals.

In “New Zealand Clinical Laboratories to Undergo Health and Safety Checks after Workers Contract Typhoid, Others Exposed to Chemicals,” Dark Daily covered how Health New Zealand recently ordered health and safety checks at multiple clinical laboratories in 18 districts across the country. The action is the result of safety issues detected after procedural discrepancies were discovered in separate labs and follows months of strikes by NZ medical laboratory workers seeking fair pay and safe working conditions.

“Conditions got so bad from 2019-2021 that workers were exposed to cancer-causing formaldehyde in cramped workspaces, and flammable chemicals were stored unsafely,” RNZ reported.

While pay increases and safety improvements have provided some relief, the memory of past incidences coupled with increasing delays continue to undermine confidence in New Zealand’s laboratory industry.

Patients Also at Risk Due to Long Delays in Test Results

“We recognize the concern and impact any delayed results can cause referrers and their patients,” Health New Zealand said in a statement, RNZ reported.

Nevertheless, a 2023 article in The Conversation noted that, “38,000 New Zealanders had been waiting longer than the four-month target for being seen by a specialist for an initial assessment.”

These backlogs can be especially deadly for cancer patients. In “Pathology Lab Shortages in New Zealand Are One Cause in Long Delays in Melanoma Diagnoses,” Dark Daily detailed how patients awaiting melanoma diagnoses are experiencing delays upwards of one month due to long waits for test results.

However, according to plastic surgeon and Melanoma Network of New Zealand (MelNet) Chair Gary Duncan, MBChB, FRACS, when patients return to their doctors for test results, those results often have not come back from the medical laboratory. Therefore, the physician cannot discuss any issues, which causes the patient to have to make another appointment or receive a melanoma diagnosis over the telephone, RNZ reported.

“Slow pathology services are unfair to patients. Such delays could result in the spreading of the melanoma to other parts of the body and require major surgery under anesthetic,” dermatologist Louise Reiche, MBChB, FRACS, told RNZ. “Not only will they suffer an extensive surgical procedure, but it could also shorten their life.”

Improvements at APS Underway

Changes are currently underway that may decrease the long delays in test results at New Zealand’s labs. “A business case was being done to set up an electronic ordering system to cut down on manual processing errors,” RNZ reported.

Additionally, “the situation is much improved due to dispersal of work around [the] city and country for now. The teamwork around the region has been a veritable lifesaver,” a source familiar with the work told RNZ.

Construction of a new lab for APS is also allegedly in the works. However, to date no announcement has been made, according to RNZ.

Time will tell if New Zealand’s government can repair its pathology system. News stories showcasing damage caused by lengthy delays in clinical laboratory test results—and the ensuing patient harm due to rationed care in general—continue to reveal the weakness in government-run healthcare systems.

—Kristin Althea O’Connor

Related Information:

Private Healthcare Pushing Auckland Labs to the Brink

Te Whatu Ora Pathology Service Provider Loses Accreditation

NZ’s Health System Has Been Under Pressure for Decades. Reforms Need to Think Big and Long-Term to Be Effective

Meeting Increased Demand

Eight-Week Wait for Skin Cancer Test Results Risking Lives-Doctors

Pathology Lab Shortages in New Zealand Are One Cause in Long Delays in Melanoma Diagnoses

Te Whatu Ora Tight-Lipped on New Auckland Pathology Lab

Medical Laboratory Leaders Gather in the United Kingdom to Address Challenges of Shrinking Lab Budgets and Need to Upgrade Quality Assurance Performance

Nation’s healthcare system is in the midst of major clinical, organizational, and financial reforms—many of which require immediate responses by pathology laboratories

BIRMINGHAM, England—Two major challenges in laboratory medicine were front and center this week when medical laboratory, a professionals and histopathologists gathered here in the United Kingdom (UK) for the eleventh annual Frontiers in Laboratory Medicine (FiLM).

One challenge is how to improve the quality of lab testing services and demonstrate value to payers. The other challenge is how medical laboratories in the UK  can cope with shrinking budgets for medical laboratories. (more…)

Across the Globe, ISO 15189 Enjoys Growing Acceptance by Governments for the Accreditation of Medical Laboratories in their Countries

Clinical laboratory organizations that seek to set themselves “apart from the herd” are seeking internally recognized quality accreditation, such as ISO 15189

Even as only a small number of clinical laboratories, in the United States have taken the steps to earn accreditation to ISO 15189 Medical Laboratories, it is a different story in other nations, particularly where no statutory requirement for medical laboratory licensure or accreditation exists.

North of the border, the Canadian Province of Ontario has based medical laboratory accreditation on ISO 15189. Over the past decade, more than 130 laboratory organizations in the province have earned accreditation to ISO 15189. Other provinces in Canada have taken steps to develop their own ISO 15189 accreditation programs. (more…)

Fast Increase in the Number of Medical Homes Creates New Business Opportunities for Clinical Pathology Laboratories

The Increase in Certifications is the Result of New Reimbursement Models for Patient-Centered Medical Homes by Third-Party Payers

There is much activity in the patient-centered medical homes (PCMH) sector of the U.S. healthcare system. A host of certification and accreditation bodies have set up shop and they report a rapid increase in the number of organizations they are recognizing as medical homes.

That fact alone is significant news. It is evidence that physicians are spending substantial time and money to convert their medical practices into medical homes. In turn, this trend represents an opportunity for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, since medical homes need to order clinical laboratory tests on behalf of their patients. (more…)

Clinical Pathology Laboratories Have Opportunity to Learn More about ISO 15189

A2LA, CAP, and QMP-LS to Participate in an Informational Event on January 20th



ISO 15189 is gaining a foothold among laboratories in the United States. Since the first clinical pathology laboratory in the U.S. earned accreditation to “ISO 15189:2007 Medical Laboratories” in 2008, there has been a steady increase in the number of clinical laboratories that have embarked on their own path to accreditation.

This fall, The Dark Report and Dark Daily invited all three of the organizations in North America that offer accreditation services for ISO 15189 to speak at the fourth annual Lab Quality Confab, which took place in San Antonio, Texas, on November 2-3, 2010. It marked the first time that all three of these ISO-accrediting organizations spoke in public at one time and in one place. (more…)