Health-e News Service - February 9, 2012
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) says it's ready to litigate
against the Gauteng Health Department should it not clear its
outstanding debt to suppliers by the end of this week. The TAC
adds that the closure of health laboratories in Gauteng and
KwaZulu-Natal has severely impacted on people who are
HIV-positive and those with TB.
Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, TAC, Nonkosi
Khumalo says the closure of health laboratory services impacts on
patients on Anti-retroviral treatment (ARVs) and those who need
to be tested for TB. Blood tests are not being done due to the
closures. Khumalo says some health care facilities are unable to
initiate new patients on ARV treatment because they can't get
their blood tests to laboratories.
"People have been calling our offices and we have been to some of
the sites that have challenges, like Kaalfontein clinic in
Tembisa, Eastbank clinic in Alexandra and ART clinic in Edenvale.
These are clinics that started saying to us: 'We are just not
coping because we can't do laboratory tests, we can't initiate
people on treatment unless we know what their CD4 counts are, we
can't screen for TB because we won't get the results'," Khumalo
The National Health Laboratory Service, NHLS, is owed about R2
billion. The Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Health Departments owe
R1.7billion collectively. About 30 of its sites have already shut
down. The Health Department has so far committed to clearing all
outstanding debt by June this year. Khumalo says the crisis needs
to be sorted out now.
"We are at the moment considering litigation. There are
discussions with Section 27 who are our attorneys and will be our
attorneys of record if nothing happens by Friday. TAC is ready to
litigate on an urgent basis and get a proper plan. An answer
saying by June is not good enough. Something has to happen and it
has to happen now. We are definitely litigating. This has been
going on forever. We didn't just find out about it", says
There are currently more than 200 NHLS labs across the country.
CEO Dr Sagie Pillay says the body has had to take drastic
measures to centralise the facilities because of these closures.
"We are consolidating sites. We're taking three or four labs and
consolidating it into a single site. Partly as a cost saving
measure for us, so we can contain the current creditor crisis. We
owe our creditors R800million. In January, this year, we looked
at several sites in Gauteng and KZN and are in the process of
shutting them down. The plan is to move staff from those sites to
the centralised facility", says Pillay.
The NHLS is key in making the right diagnosis of patients, so
doctors can initiate the necessary treatment. Dr Pillay says the
absence of these labs in hospitals will ultimately delay the
service to the public.
"The specimen that should be picked up at 8 a.m. gets picked up
at 10 a.m. and that is going to contribute to delays. We try to
minimise them, but the easier way to do so is pay your bills", he
In a desperate attempt to restore health services, a group of
senior doctors and professors met early this week with senior
officials of the National Health Department, including the
Director-General. In a letter addressed to the health
department's officials, doctors have requested urgent
intervention in the restoration of laboratory services, access to
all essential medicines, staff shortages and the rationalisation
of hospital budgets.
The concerned doctors say the unavailability of critical
medicines and essential tools hinders them from providing quality
health care to the public. Health Department officials have
committed themselves to restoring services by the end of this
Meanwhile, some companies affiliated to the South African Medical
Devices Industry (SAMED) are in the process of embarking on
litigation against the Health Department to force it to pay money
owed to them. SAMED is owed about R400 milliom.
"A number of companies are in the process of embarking on
litigation. We have consulted with legal counsel. What we are
doing is putting together some guidance for those members in
terms of what their rights would be from a legal perspective and
we are going to supply them with that this week", says Tanya
Vogt, SAMED's Chief Operations Officer.
Four of SAMED's companies have completely stopped supplies to
close to a dozen hospitals including, Chris Hani Baragwanath
Academic Hospital, Pholosong, Tambo Memorial and Sebokeng
Hospitals. Companies have stopped supplying monitoring devices,
nuclear medicines, diagnostic equipment and maintenance,