Debts shut two PMB labs

2012-02-08 00:00

NATIONAL Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) at Northdale and Grey’s hospitals are closing down and staff are to move to one laboratory site at Edendale Hospital.

The Witness learnt that staff were told about this late last week and that the move is expected to take place by tomorrow.

NHLS chief executive officer Sagie Pillay confirmed the closures yesterday. He said it was a desperate attempt to try to streamline work, to save costs and keep creditors off their backs.

The NHLS is locked in a financial dispute with the Department of Health over payment for services. The laboratory service claims to be owed more than R2,1 billion nationally.

It claims KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the largest Health Department, and Gauteng owe the bulk of this debt — more than R1,7 billion. The amounts are being disputed by the provinces.

Pillay said the matter was going through a mediation process starting today, so he was confident that some resolution would be reached within the next two weeks.

But he added that this would not be enough to stop some laboratories closing down.

“We have not paid our creditors for more than six months.

“They have been tolerant, but are now running out of capacity to carry us,” Pillay said.

“Closing some laboratories is a measure aimed at cutting back on expenses.”

He was confident the move would not compromise the service any more than it had already been.

Pillay said the NHLS had frozen all vacancies and not made any new appointments.

Once the Grey’s and Northdale hospital laboratories close, staff will be working on a 24-hour shift system at Edendale to get laboratory test results to the hospitals in as short a time as possible.

KZN Health spokesperson Chris Maxon said the department was aware that some hospitals had been advised by the NHLS that laboratory facilities would be closing.

But by late yesterday he was not aware of any closures in the province.

Maxon confirmed that mediation in the matter would begin today and said that Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi had appointed Judge Jerome Ngwenya to arbitrate between the KZN Department of Health and the National Health Laboratory Service.

He said the KZN Health Department continued to make monthly payments of R43 million to the NHLS and has not reneged on this commitment.

The KZN Health Department has made it known that it believes the service provided by NHLS is too expensive.

However, it had no choice but to make use of it, as the NHLS was the sole provider of laboratory services to the department.

The National Laboratory Service, set up by an act of Parliament, has been described as the largest diagnostic pathology service in SA.

It screens for bacteria, HIV and other viruses, cancers and tuberculosis, among others.

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