Pathology service may recover more than R1?bln from KZN Health Dept

2013-02-01 00:00

THE National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is expected to be in position to recover debts totalling more than R1 billion from the KZN Health Department (DOH) following an out-of-court settlement reached here yesterday.

The dispute has been in the public eye on numerous occasions and last year led to the closure of some health laboratories in KZN.

However, following yesterday’s court ruling neither the NHLS nor the KZN health authorities had much to say.

In response to an e-mail sent to KZN Health Department spokesperson Sebe Zwane, The Witness received a statement saying that the DOH and NHLS would be addressing the issues around the outstanding debt under the direction of the minister and the national DOH.

“Both parties have agreed on the way forward in order to resolve the issues related to this matter and it is currently premature to speculate on the outcome until the matter is resolved between the parties,” he said.

The CEO of the NHLS, Dr Dharamalingum Pillay, also declined to comment yesterday.

The NHLS approached the Pietermaritzburg high court yesterday seeking an order to overturn a decision taken last September in favour of the DOH by retired Judge S.J. Ngwenya, who was appointed in February to arbitrate in the dispute over the debt.

He dismissed the NHLS claim.

According to court papers, the DOH owed the NHLS R1 025 574 353 as at January 31, 2012.

Legal representatives of the parties met with Judge Ron McLaren in his chambers yesterday, after which he granted an order simply stating that the DOH may not implement Ngwenya’s award (decision), and giving the NHLS leave to withdraw its application.

Each party was to pay their own costs.

The application was brought against Ngwenya, KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, KZN Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize, MEC for Finance Ina Cronjé, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Finance Minister Pravin Godhan.

The NHLS had asked the high court to review Ngwenya’s decision in the matter and substitute it with an order holding the DOH liable as from April 1, 2010 to pay the NHLS for services that had been rendered to it on a “fee for service basis” as set out in the NHLS Act.

The NHLS submitted in the application papers that Ngwenya had been biased and failed to take into account relevant evidence and considerations when he arrived at his decision.

In his affidavit, Pillay said the dispute with the DOH dated back to 2010.

He said the NHLS had sought payment from KZN but they refused to pay. “Eight of the nine provinces in South Africa are paying the NHLS in terms of the NHLS Act,” he said.

He said Ngwenya’s decision had allowed KZN to avoid its responsibilities in terms of the NHLS Act “to the detriment of the general population of RSA” and particularly the indigent people of the country.

Pillay said KZN could not continuously rely on the other eight provinces subsidising it as this has major negative implications for the provision of health services in the country.

He said KZN had originally been granted special dispensation in 2006, primarily because of the absence of a proper tracking and billing system in the province’s health service.

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