Toxicology reports backlog: Minister of Health – ‘unschooled personnel is part of the problem’

FF Plus

Toxicology reports backlog: Minister of Health – ‘unschooled personnel is part of the problem’
Toxicology reports backlog: Minister of Health - 'unschooled personnel is part of the problem'. Photo: Pixabay

While the backlog with toxicology reports increasingly undermines the criminal justice system, excuses are made year in and year out and the problem just keeps getting bigger.

The Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, admits in his replies to the FF Plus’s questions about the matter that, among other things, “unschooled personnel” is part of the problem.

In the FF Plus’s view, this is a direct consequence of Affirmative Action (AA), which is obviously having the same destructive impact on the rest of the public sector as well.

The other excuses offered by the Minister include old laboratory equipment that “frequently breaks down”, inadequate equipment and services, and delays in procuring materials needed to perform the tests.

Two years ago, the excuse was that the police failed to provide case numbers.

It is unacceptable that excuses are made year after year for a problem that just keeps getting bigger and is directly affecting the administration of justice. At least, this time the Minister named the actual problem.

Two years ago (June 2021), the FF Plus also enquired about the backlog and the reply indicated that there was a total of 28 181 samples outstanding of which 7 889 had been outstanding for more than ten years.

The current total backlog has grown to 35 776. And there are about 10 000 tests that have been outstanding for more than five years.

The FF Plus asked the Minister whether the help of private laboratories can be called in to address the backlog with the tests. The reply was that it would require legislation seeing as the National Treasury would have to approve any expenses in that regard.

Meanwhile, testing has been transferred from the National Department of Health to the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS).

According to the Minister, the NHLS possesses the necessary “expertise and resources”, and is a “more specialised” laboratory service. So, it seems that there is no plan in the pipeline to address the problems at the Department’s laboratories.

Although the Department of Health compiles the toxicology reports, what is of particular importance are those relating to drivers’ blood sample tests for alcohol.

The police do not handle those reports, although they do handle the ones relating to drug use. The Department of Health deals with the cases involving drivers who had been under the influence of alcohol. The police refer those cases to the Department of Health.

This problem cannot continue indefinitely, and the FF Plus will see to it that transferring the matter to the NHLS does indeed have the desired outcome. The problems at the Department’s laboratories must also be addressed.

I will pose a follow-up question about it and request the Minister to provide a turnaround plan. The only people who benefit from the current state of affairs are potential criminals.

Read the original article in Afrikaans by Dr Pieter Groenewald on FF Plus