Western Cape forensic officers start with 'work-to-rule' strike

2017-06-28 17:58
(File, Supplied)

(File, Supplied)

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Cape Town – Forensic officers in several mortuaries across the Western Cape started with a "work-to-rule" strike on Wednesday, News24 has reliably learnt. 

The strike follows similar "work-to-rule" action in Gauteng since June 9 which resulted in a mortuary backlog of roughly 250 bodies. 

Three sources close to forensic services confirmed to News24 that forensic officers started with a "work-to-rule" strike in Tygerberg, Salt River, Worcester and Hermanus.

"Work-to-rule" refers to contractual agreements between forensic officers and the department of health which allegedly does not stipulate dissections as a requirement for forensic officers.

A forensic officer assists a trained, qualified pathologist with post-mortems.

A pathologist conducts post-mortems and a forensic officer may only assist them.

It is believed that the officers are not demanding additional payment, but seek clarification on whether they are allowed to do organ dissections without interfering with the law.

Provincial health authorities said they are unable to comment on the strike at this stage. A meeting between the provincial health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo and forensic officers is scheduled for Thursday morning.

Untrained forensic officers

On Friday, News24 reported that a forensic officer at the Tygerberg mortuary, with only matric and a driver’s licence, alleged that untrained forensic officers had been conducting dissections without supervision for the past 10 years.

On the condition of anonymity, he said he found it morally compromising that he was allowed to do procedures he was not trained to do.

"Here we are allowed to remove and just go on as you please because of the workload. There [are] some guys who can just close their eyes and do it. They don’t care anymore; there’s no ethical part to it anymore because of the workload and we haven’t had any form of training," he said.

"When you do something wrong, yes, the pathologist will get upset and mention it to you, but I just turn my back and walk away because I haven’t been trained to do that."

The portfolio committee on Health allegedly heard last Tuesday that untrained forensic officers have been conducting post-mortems since 2006 without supervision, but the National Pathology committee disputed this allegation.

News24 has been unable to obtain copies of the minutes of the portfolio committee meeting.

In a statement on Wednesday, Western Cape Department of Health head Beth Engelbrecht stressed that a fully qualified pathologist is at all times responsible for the overall and direct control of the post-mortem process - with direct supervision and instructions to assistants, from beginning to end.

"The claim by a Forensic Officer at Tygerberg mortuary that they perform autopsies without training and without the required supervision is unfounded and false," Engelbrecht said.

The provincial Hospersa offices, which represents the forensic officers, referred all inquiries to the national Hospersa office.

The national Hospersa office did not respond to a request for comment.

Engelbrecht said while both work within the same environment, it was inaccurate to refer to Forensic Pathology Officers and those who function as assistants to have been conducting post-mortems.

"In the interest of ensuring understanding and co-operation in this important field of the healthcare service, the department will continue dialogues with all members of staff, to ensure this critical area is strengthened to ensure good service to our stakeholders and communities," Engelbrecht said. 

Read more on:    cape town  |  health

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