Have Public Pathology Services Become Another Commodity for Sale?

samples-kitSt John of God Healthcare (SJOG) announced in July that it had entered into a sale agreement with Australian Clinical Labs for the sale of its Victorian and Western Australian pathology service operation.

The bulk of SJOG’s operations in Victoria comprise operating public sector pathology laboratories under contract arrangements. These contracts are with various public health services, including Barwon Health, Victoria’s largest public health service outside of metropolitan Melbourne.

The sale of SJOG’s pathology operation to Clinical Labs is fundamentally about the ‘sale’ of all of SJOG’s public pathology contracts to Clinical Labs, which will take over all of SJOG’s pathology contracts, without any say by the public health services that have engaged SJOG to provide pathology services for their hospitals.

One day SJOG are providing public pathology services to Barwon Health; the next day they are replaced by Clinical Labs, a change that the Health Service has had absolutely no say in. Bear in mind that pathology is a vital clinical service in any public health service.

Also bear in mind that the pathology work in a public health service, including pathology work that is performed under a contract arrangement with a private pathology provider, is public health sector work. The fact of contracts changing ownership under this ‘sale’ arrangement results in public sector pathology services effectively becoming a commodity that has been traded between commercial entities seemingly outside the control of the owner of the pathology service, the public health service.

Of equal concern for the Union is that the sale deal includes agreement that jobs will be cut across the pathology services. The Union was informed by SJOG management that the number of jobs would be between 100 – 200.

Obviously it is not just pathology service contracts that have been commodified by commercial interests. This sale arrangement has reduced public sector jobs to a commodity that have also been part of the trading between SJOG and Clinical Labs.

And there is doubt as to whether there automatically exists a formal contract between Barwon Health and Clinical Labs.

The Union has put a strong position to both the State Government and Barwon Health that our pathology services and public sector jobs must be protected from private interests who now regard these as a commodity to be traded in commercial ‘deals’.

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