National Health Lab won't suspend services to Gauteng

By Drum Digital
24 March 2014

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) will not suspend its services to the Gauteng health department, the department said on Monday.

"Gauteng made a commitment to them to pay and we are paying them," said spokesman Simon Zwane said.

"The services will not be suspended in Gauteng."

He said the department was currently in talks with the NHLS over the amount owed. The department was disputing the amount.

The Star on Monday reported that the KwaZulu-Natal health department owed NHLS R3 billion, while Gauteng owed R900 million.

The NHLS last week threatened to suspend services to both departments if the amounts owed were not paid.

Zwane told Sapa the Gauteng department paid R77m on Friday.

The NHLS is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa covering around 80 percent of the population.

It provides diagnostic laboratory services, research, production of sera for anti-snake venom, and screening for HIV and tuberculosis patients.

Divisions of the NHLS include the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, National Institute for Occupational Health, National Cancer Registry, and the SA Vaccine Producers.

NHLS chief executive Sagie Pillay declined to comment.

The KwaZulu-Natal health department referred queries to its head of department, Sibongile Zungu, who could not be reached.

An official in the department's communications section said she expected the department to issue a statement later on Monday.

Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal MPL Makhosazana Mdlalose said the payment should be made immediately to avert a health care crisis.

"The KZN health department's ongoing failure to resolve the billing issue with the NHLS is a massive betrayal, both in terms of leadership and its responsibility to state-reliant patients in the province," he said in a statement.

"The news is dire for patients who rely on the public health system. Delayed screening means delayed treatment, which in cases such as HIV and cervical cancer can prove fatal."

He said the department showed an alarming lack of urgency on the matter.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA's KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, Cassim Lekhoathi, said Denosa condemned halting the services, but at the same time it was necessary for the department to pay the outstanding account.

"If it is true that it has not paid, the department must attend to this account and pay it. As Denosa, we will ask the department to engage the laboratory service."

Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA spokeswoman Michelle Connolly said the failure by the country's two largest health departments to pay their bills undermined the government's Batho Pele policy.

"Where is Batho Pele now for the poor and sick , whose blood samples will lie uncollected at local clinics? Where is Batho Pele now for the workers who want to render a service to the public, but who cannot do so due to ineptitude on the part of government?"

She said the inability of the two departments to manage their affairs undermined the planned National Health Insurance scheme.

"If the government cannot even ensure that two of its largest provincial health departments pay service providers who render a vital service to the public, then perhaps the goal of administering an enormous NHI system is entirely unrealistic," she said. - Sapa

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