Health department’s failure to pay for lab services to hit poor the hardest

2014-03-25 00:00

IT is the poorest of the poor that are expected to be hard hit by the debacle between the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and Department of Health KwaZulu-Natal.

According to reports, the KZN health department has not paid in three years and owes R3 billion, and Gauteng owes R900 million for not paying the bill for the past six months.

This diagnostic pathology service has since halted their services from clinics in KZN to laboratories.

The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) spokesperson, Michelle Connolly, said she was worried about patients in rural areas because they are the ones that are going to be affected the most.

“People will visit their clinics and blood will be collected but no courier will arrive to pick it up.

“This means that patients will not be diagnosed in time and won’t be treated on time either.

“It’s sad because this will not affect people with good jobs but the poorest of the poor,” she said.

In a letter signed by NHLS CEO Sagie Pillay, he stated that their actions were “regrettable but unavoidable”.

Another letter from NHLS CFO Devendra Erriah, addressed to colleagues, said they were “facing dire financial pressure due to non-payment of bills by the KZN and Gauteng provinces”.

He said all avenues to recover the funds have ended in little to no success.

As a result, he introduced cost containment measures.

Two years ago, former KZN premier Dr Zweli Mkhize accused the NHLS of overcharging them for the use of medical laboratories. Sapa quoted Mkhize as saying the province was paying R43 million a month for NHLS.

At that time, the department owed NHLS over R1 billion.

KZN Health HOD Dr Sibongile Zungu said they are in discussions with the national Department of Health for a way forward and part of the talks includes verification of the invoices that NHLS claims they are owed by the department.

She told The Witness that blood samples are transported to the labs by the hospital staff members and that there was no crisis. “We are moving samples ourselves … You’ll know that each hospital has cars and drivers,” she said.

Zungu said the diagnostic pathology service has blown up the amount and denied that they were owing R3 billion.

DA KZN spokesperson on health Makhosazana Mdlalose said the department’s failure to pay was a “betrayal to state reliant patients in the province”.

“Delayed screening means delayed treatment, which in cases such as HIV and cervical cancer can prove fatal.”

They have since called the department to speedily avert this crisis that has a potential to affect thousands of patients.

NHLS provides services to over 80% of the population through a national network of laboratories.

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