Motsoaledi asks for Health Ombudsman probe untrained post mortem claims

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Pathology services. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Pathology services. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Cape Town - The health department will request Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba to investigate allegations that untrained officials have been conducting post mortems since 2006, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.

"I am writing a letter to the Health Ombud to investigate this claim. All those that made this claim must appear in front of the Ombud to prove that claim," he said in a statement.

Motsoaledi urged all affected offices and individuals to co-operate with Makgoba during the investigation as "the country wishes to know the truth".

He said the department of health will take stern action on those responsible if the claim is found to be true.

On June 20, News24 reported that the portfolio committee on health allegedly heard in May that untrained forensics officers have been conducting post mortems since 2006 without supervision.

READ: Gauteng health dept denies that drivers, cleaners are conducting post mortems

Allegations 'absurd'

At the time, Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Patricia Kopane said the committee heard about the challenges in the country's forensic services, including an apparent skill shortage.

"They [untrained forensics officers] learnt from the pathologists. Actually, that's how the skills were transferred so that's why later they felt they are competent; they can do the job, despite that they did not have the qualification to do so," she said.

News24 has been unable to obtain copies of the minutes from the meeting.

The National Forensic Pathology Services Committee on Friday, however, disputed the allegations, saying it is "absurd" to suggest that non-medically trained assistants have been responsible for conducting the post mortems.

In a statement, chair Gert Saayman said there are clear differences between a forensics officer or assistant who is employed to assist trained pathologists, and a qualified pathologist who conducts a post mortem.

He said it is not unique to the field of forensic pathology that assistants do certain dissection procedures.

"[For example] when a radiographer prepares the X-ray plates of a patient or performs a CT-scan, he or she does not claim to be a radiologist [a specialist medical practitioner]; when a nurse inserts a catheter for a patient or administers an injection, that does not make him or her a doctor," Saayman said.

"When a scrub nurse or sister assists a surgeon in performing an operation, that does not make of her a surgeon and she cannot claim to have 'performed the operation'.

"In much the same way, it is a reductionist and simplistic representation to contend that the mere cutting open of or removal of tissues or organs from a body constitutes the 'conducting of a post mortem examination'."
 
The Health Professions Council of South Africa has not responded to queries from News24 since June 8.

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