Gauteng forensic services in crisis

SANDF and Gauteng health officials attend a briefing to discuss the military's deployment to provincial forensic services. (Gauteng Department of Health)
SANDF and Gauteng health officials attend a briefing to discuss the military's deployment to provincial forensic services. (Gauteng Department of Health)

Johannesburg - An estimated 250 bodies are being held by Gauteng forensic services after Nehawu union members started with a "go slow" strike on Friday.

This as allegations emerge that untrained cleaners have been conducting autopsies for well over 10 years.

The crisis is "absolutely inhumane", Gauteng Democratic Alliance (DA) health spokesperson Jack Bloom told News24 on Thursday morning.

"Some bodies have been in the mortuary for over a week. Families want to bury their loved ones; how do you find closure when you can't bury the people you love?" Bloom asked.

Nehawu members are on a "go slow" and are demanding sufficient remuneration and danger pay for conducting autopsies they are untrained to do, Bloom said.

Strike denial

Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba however denied that the union was undertaking strike action.

"No, you've got it wrong. We are not on a strike, we are not on a go-slow, we are simply only doing what is written in our contracts," Xaba said.

According to Xaba, Nehawu union members are only employed to place bodies onto the beds for pathologists to conduct autopsies.

"But our members have been assisting in autopsies for many years. It must have been well over 10 years," Xaba said.

He said the union members will not assist in conducting autopsies until a pay raise is given and learnerships offered for union members to become registered pathologists.

Hospersa, which represents hundreds of pathologists in the country, described the situation in Gauteng as "dire".

"The department of health has been using staff such as cleaners to cut bodies and perform autopsies. You cannot be remunerated for doing something you are not trained to do," Hospersa spokesperson Fazeela Fayers told News24.

"We know there is a shortage of pathologists in the country, but you cannot fix something with another wrong."

It's illegal for untrained pathologists to conduct autopsies as you have to be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), Fayers said.

News24 was unable for to reach the HPCSA for comment.

Bloom said he was particularly concerned about court cases where the autopsies of untrained pathologists are used.

"Those cases are thrown out because mistakes are made. The report can just not be considered credible," Bloom said.

The Gauteng health department on Thursday said negotiations are underway to restore forensic services in the province as soon as possible.

Military officials have been deployed to facilities that have been badly affected to clear backlogs, the department said in a statement. 

The health department did not respond to specific enquiries whether untrained workers are being used to conduct autopsies.

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