Red Deer hospital’s lab will no longer analyze pap smears come September and local lab technicians who are losing their jobs warn the quality of testing will diminish.
In April, Health Minister Ron Liepert said Alberta Health Services decided that gynecological cytology in Alberta would be centralized in Calgary and Edmonton.
On Wednesday, labs at Red Deer and Lethbridge hospitals were officially informed their bids to become provincial labs were rejected in favour of Calgary Laboratory Services and DynaLIFE Dx in Edmonton.
The Calgary and Edmonton cytology labs are the largest in Alberta.
Red Deer is the third largest at 43,000 pap smears to detect cancer per year.
Red Deer cytotechnologist Derek Harwood wasn’t surprised the news came as people are focused on summer activities and less likely to pay attention to news reports.
Public health care defenders are calling it a move towards privatization in Alberta and so does Harwood.
“People thank God they’re not in the U.S. (but) things are happening right underneath their noses,” Harwood said on Thursday.
“When things are done so suddenly, you don’t realize it until it’s too late.”
Cytotechnologists also worry about patient safety due to delays and mistakes from increased workload if samples are sent away.
“It will be a pap mill. Things will start flying through,” Harwood said.
Fred Swaine, vice-president of laboratory services with Alberta Health Services, said testing is being consolidated to “ensure all women in the province have access to liquid-based cytology for pap smears.”
Red Deer updated its cytology service in February with liquid-based cytology equipment, the latest in technology.
As for safety, Swaine said no matter where labs are located, specimens have to travel and challenges from travel, specimen integrity and specimen labelling already exist with the current system.
“We will be negotiating with both CLS and DynaLIFE to ensure there is appropriate technology, appropriate quality and appropriate turn around time.”
The Red Deer lab expects to lose eight out of 10 cytology workers.
Non-gynecological cytology will still be done in Red Deer.
Swaine said only six or seven people will be impacted in Red Deer, and a total of about 17 in the province.
Layoffs are possible, but AHS will work to mitigate job loss, he said.