02 August 2017

Extended SA lab strike hurting patients

The National Health Laboratory Services strike is delaying thousands of medical tests all around the country.


Thousands of state patients needing medical tests are being asked to come back later as the strike by staff at the National Health Laboratory Services continues.

“I am dismayed that the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) has vowed to intensify the strike by more than 5 000 workers at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS),” said Jack Bloom, health spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance.

A complete standstill

According to Bloom, the negative effects of this strike are going to become increasingly serious as thousands of medical tests are delayed all around the country. Gauteng is hardest hit by the strike as most NHLS laboratories are at a complete standstill, while a small number are working with minimal staff.

According to Bloom, the cash-strapped NHLS is facing mounting expenses as they are now forced to pay private laboratories to carry out the most urgent tests.

CEO of National Health Laboratory Service Professor Shabir Madhi has informed the heads of provincial health departments that the NHLS will outsource essential tests to private laboratories, and bill them for the work on NHLS tariffs. But no tests at all will be outsourced for primary health care facilities.

“This means that basic tests typically requested by clinics will only be done after the strike – these would include tests for TB, HIV, CD4 counts, Pap smears, sexually transmitted infections, haemoglobin, full blood count, urea and electrolytes, and Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA),” said Bloom, adding that severe mismanagement over a long period of time and the failure of provincial departments to pay for laboratory services were the underlying propblems behind the current crisis situation.

NEHAWU has already won a 7.3% salary increase for its members, but is insisting on other work improvements and on insourcing.

NHLS owed more than R2 billion

“It is unfortunate that their distrust of NHLS management and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is so high that they are unwilling to accept assurances that their other issues with be dealt with in future,” said Bloom.

The Gauteng Health Department alone currently owes the NHLS more than R2 billion for work dating back about five years.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Madhi said that the NHLS was owed about R5 billion in total, and this was why they had been unable to pay workers decent salary increases. He said if the money was not received by November, the NHLS would not be able to pay salaries.

“We will be technically bankrupt by November should the provincial health departments not pay us 100% of what they are procuring from us,” said Madhi.

Commenting on the maladministration and corruption by the NHLS staff, Madhi told the Sunday Times that disciplinary processes for the suspended CEO and suspended CFO were currently underway.

“We have uncovered acts of corruption and they're also being investigated. A lot of the key staff involved in procurement, from the CEO and CFO to the head of procurement, head of supply chain and head of audit, have all been on suspension since reports came to our attention,” he said.

Managers implicated in maladministration

NEHAWU said they were unhappy with the crumbling of the governance structure at NHLS, maladministration and continuing corruption.

“We have called for criminal investigations to be instituted on both the procurement manager and facility manager who have since resigned from NHLS due to the outcomes of the forensic investigation,” said Khaya Xaba, spokesperson for NEHAWU.

“We are making a call to the board to speed up the disciplinary cases against the CEO, CFO and other managers implicated in maladministration,” he said.

“We know that 17 cars have been sold to friends by the facility manager and the procurement manager purchased vehicles without requests from end-users and didn’t follow the correct procurement procedures,” said Xaba.

According to NEHAWU some of these vehicles are collecting dust while the institution continues to plead poverty, unable to meet workers’ demands.

A national bargaining forum is set to go ahead on Wednesday where it is hoped that a final decision will be taken about the offer and the state of the strike. – Health-e News.


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