The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPA), Australasia’s key medical diagnostic body, is urging New Zealand health officials to take the lead in solving the crisis facing New Zealand’s pathology services.

Dr Debra Graves, chief executive officer of the RCPA, cites a litany of problems contributing to the crisis, such as a shortage of pathologists, the prospect of retirement for many seasoned pathologists, a lack of trainees in the pipeline, and population growth of roughly 5% in the last five years.
The number of full-time equivalent practicing pathologists has decreased by 7% while the complexity and volume of tests performed has increased dramatically, Graves said, noting a shortage of trained pathologists worldwide could exacerbate the situation.

The RCPA is calling on the Hon. Pete Hodgson, New Zealand’s minister of health, and Stephen McKernan, its director general of health, to take clear leadership roles in the matter.

The lack of a national framework, and the ongoing District Health board tendering process is having a detrimental impact on the quality of the country’s health care, Graves added. The issues could be complicated by tendering contracts under which many laboratories are working, which include no room for volume and cost growth for five to 10 years, and which might threaten the financial viability of pathology providers, according to Graves.

The RCPAs members hail from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. Pathologists diagnose some 70% of diseases.

The organization has said it hopes to work cooperatively with New Zealand officials to address the issues , but officials have shrugged off the College’s warnings.