Alan Simkins, centre, with some of his laboratory colleagues.

Kaitaia Hospital laboratory’s former manager Alan Simkins has retired 19 years to the day after he began working in the lab.

He started with the then Kaitaia Hospital Board on November 17, 1998 and on the same day this year the 69-year-old was farewelled by colleagues from Northland District Health Board.

He cut down his hours and gave up the role as “charge scientist” four years ago, after hitting 65.

Mr Simkins’ job — responsible for the management and technical input of the lab — came with political as well as technological challenges.

“At the time I began, both the hospital and the laboratory were under threat of closure,” he said.

“Lots of reviews were going on as to whether they should rationalise the health service in New Zealand. Kaitaia is famous in NZ for having had mass protests to protect the hospital.”

Northland Health management eventually came to the right decision to support the hospital rather than hand over to private pathology labs, he said.

But the hospital laboratory went through many years of change, including new equipment, ISO accreditation and greater affiliation with Whangarei Hospital services.

“We standardised operating procedures and equipment and our computers were all linked. All in all, I would say almost from day one, in my time, the lab has done nothing but change,” he said.

“Every time it’s changed the quality has gone up and the service has improved and it’s been a hell of a ride.”

Making medicine more community-oriented has been particularly significant, he reckons.

“There is now more screening, more money, more addressing of poverty and associated illnesses – that made pathology busier and busier, so we got bigger equipment.”

With 11 staff, the laboratory looks after biochemistry testing, blood banking, coagulation and microbiology, supported by specimen services, blood tests, lab cultures, coagulation and more.

The Kaitaia lab team is tight-knit and dedicated, with a number of the staff having worked there for many years.

Neil Wood, who succeeded Mr Simkins as charge scientist, said his predecessor’s major contributions to phlebotomy included published research in 2013 about fasting lipids.

“There have been many changes to the laboratory over Alan’s tenure, from moving from hand written reports to complete computerisation and installation of modern instrumentation,” Mr Wood said.

He described Mr Simkins as kind and “a good bloke” , with a dry sense of humour, and always supportive of his colleagues.

Source: Northern Advocate

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