Health owes R1,7?bln

2011-08-19 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Health Department owes its contracting National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) R800 million, which has not been paid in the last 160 days, and it has been issued with a final letter of demand.

This outstanding money is only part of the R1,7 billion owed by the national Health Department for services, of which R1,3 billion is owed by KZN and Gauteng alone.

The chief executive of NHLS, Sagie Pillay, was completely open about the dire situation: “Yes, R1,7 billion is owed to us by the government, although we are now contracted and act as a government department.

“KZN alone owes us in excess of R800 million in the last 160 days and a letter of demand has been issued.”

He said negotiations with Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi have begun in earnest.

The matter has been kept under the radar, but now several NHLS employees working in government hospital laboratories on the South Coast are alarmed. There are fears that laboratory staff will not be paid at the end of this month and that if NHLS is not paid there will be no money to do essential laboratory tests, endangering patients’ lives.

But Pillay laid these fears to rest. “We can’t punish patients because of irresponsible provinces. The minister will have to use the Treasury to sort out his problem.

“We have breathing space at the moment … I want to assure staff that their jobs are safe and they will be paid. There is no fear of any tests being stopped.

“However if the problem is not resolved any capital expenditure will be put on hold and clearly we will not be able to expand laboratories or hire staff.”

National Health Department spokesperson Fidel Hadebe has confirmed the situation.

“Yes, we are aware of this problem. The matter has been discussed extensively at the health technical committee meeting, which comprises national health directors-general and provincial heads of department.

“The matter has also been discussed at the National Health Council meeting which is chaired by the minister and attended by all the MECs. It’s a serious matter for us as it has the potential to negatively impact on the delivery of health services in our hospitals.”

Hadebe said the minister has been pushing provinces to direct their spending towards delivery issues such as laboratory services and medicines.

“We hope we don’t get to a point where laboratory services are terminated or suspended,” he said.

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