Pap smears will be processed elsewhere

Health Minister Ron Liepert says Red Deer is losing its lab to test pap smears.

Health Minister Ron Liepert says Red Deer is losing its lab to test pap smears.

During Monday’s question period at the legislature, Liepert said Alberta Health Services has decided that testing in Alberta will be centralized at labs in Calgary and Edmonton.

He expects samples will start being transported to those cities soon.

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has seven cytotechnologists who test pap smears and last week a few spoke out against the plan, worried for their jobs and patient safety due to delays and mistakes from increased workload if samples are sent away.

They also argue that removing the lab would separate biopsy testing, which would continue to be done in Red Deer, from pap smears so pathologists can’t immediately compare the results side by side for better analysis.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said he has yet to see evidence from government to support a change in gynecological cytology.

Why aren’t the people in the labs, who know the most, being consulted, he asked.

“I think Albertans are tired of these arbitrary decisions made behind closed doors,” Swann said on Monday from Lethbridge.

Alberta Health Services “just seems to be making decisions because they feel the pressure to change something and we keep asking for evidence that this is going to improve the system,” Swann said.

“We find often they are looking for short-term cost reductions and it ends up costing us much more in the long term with much more frustration and other challenges in the system that we don’t predict or that we don’t anticipate very well.”

David Eggen, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said consolidation will be bad for rural Alberta.

“We’re concerned about specialized medical services leaving centres around the province. Centralization of lab testing is problematic specifically because you’re losing a level of expertise in regions that help create a better, bigger capacity for care in places other than Edmonton and Calgary,” Eggen said from Edmonton.

It’s also disturbing that the province is looking at changing cytology without public consultation, he said.

“You can’t not show your cards with something as important as public health care. It’s just not something that you should be secretive about.

“We’re always vigilant to watch for privatization so we would discourage the centralization for the potential it could serve to make it easier to sell off down the road sometime,” Eggen said.

Last week, Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said he has contacted Alberta Health Services on behalf of Red Deer cytotechnologists who want to continue to make Red Deer their home.

He said he is concerned for hospital staff, but there’s also the commitment that government has made to look at the health care processes and costs to enhance long-term sustainability of health care.

“I’m torn in a sense,” Dallas said.

“I recognize the difficulty of the situation, and while I personally would like to see those services stay in Red Deer, whatever decision is made, I will be certain to ensure that there are no health delivery impacts in terms of the quality of health care to the constituents of Red Deer South as a result of any decision that might be made.”