KZN health department reacts to Public Protector's 'outrageous' morgue report

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
Ian Carbutt

The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) health department has come out guns blazing following a damning report into its mortuaries.

On Thursday, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released a report titled "Government Mortuaries" which found improper conduct and non-compliance at mortuaries run by the Department of Health in KZN, which allegedly resulted in substandard service delivery, News24 reported

The report found government-run mortuaries in KZN guilty of improper conduct relating to the management of human bodies at the facilities. It was also alleged that the government-run mortuaries did not have the basic equipment to carry out services.

In a lengthy statement issued on Monday, KZN MEC for Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the Public Protector did not find anything consistent with the "outrageous and untruthful claims" that bodies were not properly identified, and that some were lying on the floors and piling up on the trolleys and trays outside mortuary fridges.

According to Mkhwebane, it was alleged in a complaint received in 2015 that human bodies were piling up on mortuary floors, trolleys and trays outside of the mortuary fridges.

Sufficient storage

"The Public Protector's response once again exposes the antics of those who operate in bad faith, and are intent on besmirching the good name of the department and its hardworking staff and management," Dhlomo said.

"There is sufficient storage for human bodies in the medico-legal mortuaries (MLM), including the busiest four MLMs in KwaZulu-Natal.  Magwaza Maphalala (Gale Street) Mortuary is the busiest mortuary in KwaZulu-Natal, and there was no piling up of bodies as alleged."

On occasions, where the cold rooms (fridges) were not functioning, bodies were moved to Phoenix MLM because it has more capacity for body storage, Dhlomo added.

Read: Situation 'getting worse' in KZN mortuaries

"It is also untrue that there has been a high volume of decomposed and/or decomposing bodies in the mortuaries.

"There are human mortal remains that get admitted in the MLMs already in a decomposed state. Some are admitted when the process of decomposition has already started. There are separate storage rooms allocated for decomposed bodies. In instances of faulty refrigeration in the cold rooms, bodies are moved to the nearest MLM with sufficient storage capacity."

Dhlomo claimed the temperature in the cold rooms was recorded at least twice a day, and such recordings were then checked by or submitted to the mortuary manager.

He added that mortuary managers all had post-matric qualifications.

Mkhwebane found that the department failed to employ properly trained and experienced forensic pathologists.

"The allegation that the department failed to provide KwaZulu-Natal mortuaries with sufficient quantities of the basic, necessary and relevant equipment to ensure effective and efficient service delivery is substantiated based on the admission made by the department," Mkhwebane said.

Remedial action

Mkhwebane's remedial action included that the KZN health department monitor the mortuaries quarterly to ensure they comply with all relevant legal prescripts which regulate them.

She also asked for a report on the regularisation of forensic pathology services, including the development of forensic pathologists' proper job descriptions and the allocation of specific job functions.

Read the full statement here: 

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