Pathology labs reopen after bailout

2012-02-13 11:34

Six state-contracted pathology labs that were closed down last week as part of National Health Laboratory Services’ (NHLS) cost saving strategy were re-opened today.

The cash-strapped NHLS confirmed that the labs, located in government hospitals around Gauteng, were operating this morning.

NHLS spokesperson Kaamini Reddy said things were running smoothly at the six labs.

The decision to re-open the labs comes in the wake of the weekend announcement by National Treasury that it would grant the Gauteng department of health a R1-billion bailout.

The department owes service providers, including NHLS, more than R2.5 billion. The debt was accumulated over a number of years.

About R150 million from the bailout will be paid to NHLS, says department spokesperson Simon Zwane.

“We will continue with our monthly arrangement of paying R90 million until the debt is settled,” he said.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng welcomed the R1-billion bailout, but said it was long overdue.

Thousands of patients, says the DA’s Jack Bloom, have unduly suffered because of the non-payment of service providers.

Last week, patients who wanted a CD4 count blood test at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg were allegedly told that they would get their results after two weeks. Usually, the turnaround time for such tests is two days.

A second source at the hospital said: “Staff were on a go-slow because there is a lot of unhappiness and uncertainty about the future of the laboratory since staff from Rahima Moosa Hospital were incorporated into their team.”

The laboratory at Rahima Moosa was closed last week because the NHLS was trying to save costs.

However, Reddy downplayed the claim, saying lab staff were not on a go-slow.

“I know that some hospitals where labs have been closed are sending specimens to those that are opened. It could be the reason for the delay but we will investigate.”

» Critical hospital suppliers who were owed millions by the Gauteng department of health were paid on Friday.

About R736 million was paid to various medical suppliers including the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and the blood bank, SANBS.

» R386 million was paid towards essential medical supplies;
» R150 million to NHLS; and
» R50 million to SANBS.

The remainder of the R1 billion bailout will be used to pay outstanding debts and current suppliers of service, says department spokesperson Simon Zwane.

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