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

Hosted by Robert Michel

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

Hosted by Robert Michel
Sign In

New Zealand Blood Service Workers and Junior Doctors Hit the Picket Line Once Again to Fight against Pay Disparities and Poor Working Conditions

As before, the ongoing strikes continue to cause delays in critical clinical laboratory blood testing and surgical procedures

After seven months of failed negotiations, New Zealand’s blood workers, clinical laboratory technicians, and medical scientists, are once again back on strike. According to Star News, hundreds of lab workers walked off the job on May 31, 2024, with another longer walkout planned for June to protest pay disparities.

New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) workers, who are represented by the Public Service Association or PSA (Māori: Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi), collect and process blood and tissue samples from donors to ensure they are safe for transfer.

“Our colleagues at Te Whatu Ora [Health New Zealand] are being paid up to 35% more than us and we want to be paid too. We want fair pay,” Esperanza Stuart, a New Zealand Blood Service scientist, told Star News.

“The stall in negotiations is largely attributed to a lack of movement from NZBS on the principal issue of parity with Te Whatu Ora laboratory workers rates of pay. There is currently a 21-28% pay differential between NZBS and Te Whatu Ora laboratory workers, despite both groups of workers performing essentially the same work,” NZ Doctor noted.

Health New Zealand is the country’s government-run healthcare system.

The first strike took place on May 31 from 1-5 pm. A second 24-hour strike is planned for June 4. The strikers outlined the rest of their strike schedule as follows:

  • No work outside paid hours (5/29-6/6)
  • Refusal to conduct duties associated with processing AHF [antihemophilic factor] plasma (5/29-6/6)
  • No overtime or extra shifts (6/6-6/19)

The PSA union claims that the pay disparity workers are experiencing is pushing veteran workers out and complicating recruitment of new workers.

New Zealand Blood Service workers and junior doctors are once again back on the picket line to protest wage cuts and pay disparities. “I think it should be a signal that things are not right in our health system when there are multiple groups of workers going on strike simultaneously,” said PSA union organizer Alexandra Ward. Clinical laboratory workers in the US are closely monitoring the goings on in New Zealand as pressure over staff shortages and working conditions continue to mount in this country as well. (Photo copyright: RNZ.)

Clinical Laboratory Worker Strikes Ongoing in New Zealand

This is far from the first time New Zealand lab workers have hit the picket line.

In “Medical Laboratory Workers Again on Strike at Large Clinical Laboratory Company Locations around New Zealand,” Dark Daily reported on a medical laboratory workers strike that took place in 2023 in New Zealand’s South Island and Wellington regions. The workers walked off the job after a negotiated agreement was not reached between APEX, a “specialist union representing over 4,000 allied, scientific, and technical health professionals,” according to the union’s website, and Awanui Labs, one of the country’s largest hospital and clinical laboratory services providers.

And in “Four Thousand New Zealand Medical Laboratory Scientists and Technicians Threatened to Strike over Low Pay and Poor Working Conditions,” we covered a series of walkouts in 2022 sparked by an unprecedented surge in PCR COVID-19 testing that pushed the country’s 10,000 healthcare workers—including 4,000 medical laboratory scientists and technicians—to the breaking point.

This latest strike is likely to cause delays in vital surgeries and risk the nation’s critical blood supply. All of these strikes were spurred on by low pay, negative working conditions and worker burnout. Similar issues have caused labor actions in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service in recent years.  

Junior Doctors Join Blood Service Workers on Picket Line

Blood service workers aren’t the only healthcare employees in New Zealand’s medical community taking action. In May about half of the nation’s junior doctors walked off the job for 25 hours to protest proposed pay cuts, NZ Herald reported.

In a letter to the nation’s public hospitals, Sarah Morley, PhD, NZBS’s Chief Medical Officer, “warned [that] even high priority planned surgeries should be deferred because they did not meet the definition of a ‘life-preserving service,’” and that “only surgeries where there is less than a 5% risk that patients may need a transfusion should be carried out,” RNZ reported.

According to an internal memo at Mercy Ascot, NZBS “did not consider cancers and cardiac operations in private hospitals to be a life-preserving service,” RNZ noted.

The situation may be more dangerous than officials are letting on, NZ Herald noted. A senior doctor at Waikato Hospital told reporters, “There are plenty of elective services cancelled today—clinics, surgery, day stay procedures etc. … And although I can only speak for my department, we are really tight for cover from SMO [senior medical officers] staff for acute services and pretty much all elective work has been cancelled. So, it’s actually pretty dire, and if next week’s planned strike goes ahead it’s going to be worse. I’d go as far as to say that it’s bordering on unsafe.”

The strike did take place, and the junior doctors went back on strike at the end of May as well, according to RNZ.

Support from Patients

Eden Hawkins, a junior doctor on strike at Wellington Hospital told RNZ that patient wellbeing is a top concern of striking workers and that patients have shown support for the doctors.

“When patients have brought it up with me on the wards or in other contexts there seems to be a bolstering sense of support around us, which is really reassuring and heartening because there’s obviously a conflict within ourselves when we strike, we don’t want to be doing that,” she said. Hawkins also makes the argument that striking workers can improve patient wellbeing in the long run. Improvement of pay and conditions could lessen staff turnover and overall improve the standard of care.

New Zealand healthcare workers haven’t been shy when it comes to fighting for the improved working conditions and fair pay. And their problems are far from unique. American healthcare workers have been struggling with worker burnout, pay disparities, high turnover as well. Clinical laboratory and other healthcare professionals in the US would be wise to keep an eye on their Kiwi counterparts.

—Ashley Croce

Related Information:

Fed-Up Blood Service Workers Go on Strike

NZ Blood Workers Plan 24-Hour Strike for Pay Parity

New Zealand Blood Service Laboratory Workers to Strike after 7 Months of Stalled Pay Negotiations

Significant Risk to Blood Supply as Blood Service Lab Workers Strike

Junior Doctors to Strike for 25 Hours, May Postpone Treatments

‘Pretty Dire’ Situation for Patients as Junior Doctors Strike Over Pay Cuts

Junior Doctors Go on Strike Again, More Surgeries Deferred

Medical Laboratory Workers Again on Strike at Large Clinical Laboratory Company Locations around New Zealand

Four Thousand New Zealand Medical Laboratory Scientists and Technicians Threatened to Strike over Low Pay and Poor Working Conditions

What Key Laboratory Leaders Will Learn at This Week’s 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management

Executives and pathologists from many of the nation’s most prominent clinical laboratories are on their way to the Crescent City today to share best practices, hear case studies from innovative labs, and network

NEW ORLEANS—This afternoon, more than 900 lab CEOs, administrators, and pathologists will convene for the 28th Annual Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management conference. Three topics of great interest will center around adequate lab staffing, effective cost management, and developing new sources of lab testing revenue.

Important sessions will also address the explosion in next-generation sequencing and genetic testing, proposed FDA regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs), and innovative ways that clinical laboratories and pathology groups can add value and be paid for that additional value.

All this is happening amidst important changes to healthcare and medicine in the United States. “Today, the US healthcare system is transforming itself at a steady pace,” explained Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report and Founder of the Executive War College. “Big multi-hospital health systems are merging with each other, and payers are slashing reimbursement for many medical lab tests, even as healthcare consumers want direct access to clinical laboratory tests and the full record of their lab test history.

“Each of these developments has major implications in how clinical laboratories serve their parent organizations, offer services directly to consumers, and negotiate with payers for fair reimbursement as in-network providers,” Michel added. “Attending the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management equips lab leaders with the tools they’ll need to make smart decisions during these challenging times.”

Executive War College

Now in its 28th year, the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management convenes April 25-26 in New Orleans. Executive War College extends to a third day with three full-day workshops: LEAN fundamentals for lab leaders, a genetic testing program track, and a digital pathology track. Learn more at www.ExecutiveWarCollege.com. (Photo copyright: The Dark Intelligence Group.)

Challenges and Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories

With major changes unfolding in the delivery and reimbursement of clinical services, clinical laboratory and pathology practice leaders need effective ways to respond to the evolving needs of physicians, patients, and payers. As The Dark Report has often covered, three overlapping areas are a source of tension and financial pressure for labs:

  • Day-to-day pressures to manage costs in the clinical laboratory or pathology practice.
  • The growing demand for genetic testing, accompanied by reimbursement challenges.
  • Evolving consumer expectations in how they receive medical care and interact with providers.

Addressing all three issues and much more, the 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management features more than 80 sessions with up to 125 lab managers, consultants, vendors, and in vitro diagnostic (IVD) experts as speakers and panelists.

Old-School Lab Rules Have Evolved into New-School Lab Rules

Tuesday’s keynote general sessions (to be reported exclusively in Wednesday’s Dark Daily ebriefing) will include four points of interest for clinical laboratory and pathology leaders who are managing change and pursuing new opportunities:

  • Positioning the lab to prosper by serving healthcare’s new consumers, new care models, new payment models, and more, with Michel at the podium.
  • How old-school lab rules have evolved into new-school lab rules and ways to transition the lab through today’s disrupters in healthcare and the clinical laboratory marketplace, with Stan Schofield, Managing Principal of the Compass Group.
  • The growing trend of clinical laboratory-pharmacy relationships with David Pope, PharmD, CDE, Chief Pharmacy Officer at OmniSYS, XIFIN Pharmacy Solutions.
  • Generating value by identifying risk signals in longitudinal lab data and opportunities in big data from payers, physicians, pharma, and bioresearch, with Brad Bostic, Chairman and CEO of hc1.

Wednesday’s keynote sessions (see exclusive insights in Friday’s Dark Daily ebriefing) explore:

Wednesday’s keynotes conclude with a panel discussion on delivering value to physicians, patients, and payers with lab testing services.

Clinical Labs, Payers, and Health Plans Swamped by Genetic Test Claims

Attendees of the 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management may notice a greater emphasis on whole genome sequencing and genetic testing this year.

As regular coverage and analysis in The Dark Report has pointed out, clinical laboratories, payers, and health plans face challenges with the explosion of genetic testing. Several Executive War College Master Classes will explore critical management issues of genetic and genomic testing, including laboratory benefit management programs, coverage decisions, payer relations, and best coding practices, as well as genetic test stewardship.

This year’s Executive War College also devotes a one-day intensive session on how community hospitals and local labs can set up and offer genetic tests and next-generation sequencing services. This third-day track features more than a dozen experts including:

During these sessions, attendees will be introduced to “dry labs” and “virtual CLIA labs.” These new terms differentiate the two organizations that process genetic data generated by “wet labs,” annotate it, and provide analysis and interpretation for referring physicians.

State of the Industry: Clinical Lab, Private Practice Pathology, Genetic Testing, IVD, and More

For lab consultants, executives, and directors interested in state-of-the-industry Q/A and discussions concerning commercial laboratories, private-practice pathology, and in vitro diagnostics companies, a range of breakout sessions, panels, and roundtables will cover:

  • Action steps to protect pathologists’ income and boost practice revenue.
  • Important developments in laboratory legal, regulatory, and compliance requirements.
  • New developments in clinical laboratory certification and accreditation, including the most common deficiencies and how to reach “assessment ready” status.
  • An update on the IVD industry and what’s working in today’s post-pandemic market for lab vendors and their customers.
  • Federal government updates on issues of concern to clinical laboratories, including PAMA, the VALID Act, and more.

Long-time attendees will notice the inclusion of “Diagnostics” into the Executive War College moniker. It’s an important addition, Michel explained for Dark Daily.

“In the recent past, ‘clinical laboratory’ and ‘anatomic pathology’ were terms that sufficiently described the profession of laboratory medicine,” he noted. “However, a subtle but significant change has occurred in recent years. The term ‘diagnostics’ has become a common description for medical testing, along with other diagnostic areas such as radiology and imaging.”

Key managers of medical laboratories, pathology groups, and in vitro diagnostics have much to gain from attending the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management, now in its 28th year. Look for continued coverage through social media channels, at Dark Daily, and in The Dark Report.

Clinical laboratories are invited to continue the conversations by joining the Executive War College Discussion Group and The Dark Report Discussion Group on LinkedIn.

Liz Carey

Related Information:

Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management Agenda

Six Important Themes to Help Labs Succeed

Executive War College Press

The Dark Report

Dark Daily eBriefings

The Dark Report Discussion Group

Executive War College Discussion Group

Could Omicron Variant Have Links to HIV? Infectious Disease Experts in South Africa Say ‘Yes’

Given the large number of mutations found in the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, experts in South Africa speculate it likely evolved in someone with a compromised immune system

As the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant spreads around the United States and the rest of the world, infectious disease experts in South Africa have been investigating how the variant developed so many mutations. One hypothesis is that it evolved over time in the body of an immunosuppressed person, such as a cancer patient, transplant recipient, or someone with uncontrolled human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV).

One interesting facet in the story of how the Omicron variant was being tracked as it emerged in South Africa is the role of several medical laboratories in the country that reported genetic sequences associated with Omicron. This allowed researchers in South Africa to more quickly identify the growing range of mutations found in different samples of the Omicron virus.

“Normally your immune system would kick a virus out fairly quickly, if fully functional,” Linda-Gail Bekker, PhD, of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (formerly the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation) in Cape Town, South Africa, told the BBC.

“In someone where immunity is suppressed, then we see virus persisting,” she added. “And it doesn’t just sit around, it replicates. And as it replicates it undergoes potential mutations. And in somebody where immunity is suppressed that virus may be able to continue for many months—mutating as it goes.”

Multiple factors can suppress the immune system, experts say, but some are pointing to HIV as a possible culprit given the likelihood that the variant emerged in sub-Saharan Africa, which has a high population of people living with HIV.

In South Africa alone, “2.2 million people are infected with HIV that is undetected, untreated, or poorly controlled,” infectious-diseases specialist Jonathan Li, MD, told The Los Angeles Times. Li is the Director of the Virology Specialty Laboratory at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Massachusetts, and the Director of the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research Clinical Core.

Li “was among the first to detail extensive coronavirus mutations in an immunosuppressed patient,” the LA Times reported. “Under attack by HIV, their T cells are not providing vital support that the immune system’s B cells need to clear an infection.”

Linda-Gail Bekker, PhD

Linda-Gail Bekker, PhD (above), of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation cautions that these findings should not further stigmatize people living with HIV. “It’s important to stress that people who are on anti-retroviral medication—that does restore their immunity,” she told the BBC. (Photo copyright: Test Positive Aware Network.)
 

Omicron Spreads Rapidly in the US

Genomics surveillance Data from the CDC’s SARS-CoV-2 Tracking system indicates that on Dec. 11, 2021, Omicron accounted for about 7% of the SARS-CoV-2 variants in circulation, the agency reported. But by Dec. 25, the number had jumped to nearly 60%. The data is based on sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 by the agency as well as commercial clinical laboratories and academic laboratories.

Experts have pointed to several likely factors behind the variant’s high rate of transmission. The biggest factor, NPR reported, appears to be the large number of mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to human cells. This gives the virus an advantage in evading the body’s immune system, even in people who have been vaccinated.

“The playing field for the virus right now is quite different than it was in the early days,” Joshua Schiffer, MD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told NPR. “The majority of variants we’ve seen to date couldn’t survive in this immune environment.”

One study from Norway cited by NPR suggests that Omicron has a shorter incubation period than other variants, which would increase the transmission rate. And researchers have found that it multiplies more rapidly than the Delta variant in the upper respiratory tract, which could facilitate spread when people exhale.

Using Genomics Testing to Determine How Omicron Evolved

But how did the Omicron variant accumulate so many mutations? In a story for The Atlantic, virologist Jesse Bloom, PhD, Professor, Basic Sciences Division, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, described Omicron as “a huge jump in evolution,” one that researchers expected to happen “over the span of four or five years.”

Hence the speculation that it evolved in an immunosuppressed person, perhaps due to HIV, though that’s not the only theory. Another is “that the virus infected animals of some kind, acquired lots of mutations as it spread among them, and then jumped back to people—a phenomenon known as reverse zoonosis,” New Scientist reported.

Still, experts are pointing to emergence in someone with a weakened immune system as the most likely cause. One of them, the L.A. Times reported, is Tulio de Oliveira, PhD, Affiliate Professor in the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington. Oliveira leads the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, as well as the nation’s Network for Genomic Surveillance.

The Network for Genomic Surveillance, he told The New Yorker, consists of multiple facilities around the country. Team members noticed what he described as a “small uptick” in COVID cases in Gauteng, so on Nov. 19 they decided to step up genomic surveillance in the province. One private clinical laboratory in the network submitted “six genomes of a very mutated virus,” he said. “And, when we looked at the genomes, we got quite worried because they discovered a failure of one of the probes in the PCR testing.”

Looking at national data, the scientists saw that the same failure was on the rise in PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) tests, prompting a request for samples from other medical laboratories. “We got over a hundred samples from over thirty clinics in Gauteng, and we started genotyping, and we analyzed the mutation of the virus,” he told The New Yorker. “We linked all the data with the PCR dropout, the increase of cases in South Africa and of the positivity rate, and then we began to see it might be a very suddenly emerging variant.”

Oliveira’s team first reported the emergence of the new variant to the World Health Organization, on Nov. 24. Two days later, the WHO issued a statement that named the newly classified Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) a “SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern.”

Microbiologists and clinical laboratory specialists in the US should keep close watch on Omicron research coming out of South Africa. Fortunately, scientists today have tools to understand the genetic makeup of viruses that did not exist at the time of SARS 2003, Swine flu 2008/9, MERS 2013.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern

Full Transcript: Tulio de Oliveira on “Face the Nation,” December 12, 2021

How South African Researchers Identified the Omicron Variant of COVID

Stanford Researchers Looking at Possible Link Between Omicron COVID Variant and HIV

Did a Collision of COVID and HIV Forge the Omicron Variant?

Omicron: South African Scientists Probe Link Between Variants and Untreated HIV

How HIV and COVID-19 Variants Are Connected

Omicron’s Explosive Growth Is a Warning Sign

The Scientist in Botswana Who Identified Omicron Was Saddened by the World’s Reaction

Did HIV Help Omicron Evolve?

How Did the Omicron Coronavirus Variant Evolve to Be So Dangerous?

Why Fighting Omicron Should Include Ramping Up HIV Prevention

Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) to Rapidly Respond to COVID-19 Outbreaks

;