Billing errors and lack of payment have been blamed for the National Health Laboratory Service’s (NHLS) recent suspension of services to some Gauteng clinics.
A 31 July NHLS memo circulated to health facilities warned that clinics that were not on a Gauteng Department of Health list of clinics able to charge lab services to the province would have their NHLS services terminated that same day.
The memo advised clinics to either rectify this with the Gauteng Department of Health or complete credit applications to apply for their own NHLS accounts.
According to AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign, some facilities in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekhurhuleni reported going without access to laboratory tests including those used to diagnose cervical cancer and monitor HIV patients for a month.
Gauteng Department of Health spokesperson Prince Hamnca said the department is aware of the problem and is taking steps to ensure that service delivery is not disrupted.
He added that the department remains committed to paying its suppliers.
Health-e News has reliably learnt that the Gauteng Department of Health now owes about R500 million to the NHLS, about R400 million less than was reported in March
“I was told the lab people were on strike”
More than two months of excruciating abdominal pain recently sent Daphney Nonyane to her local clinic in Shoshanguve for a pap smear. She says nurses have turned her away twice due to an alleged strike by NHLS workers.
“I went to the (Soshanguve Block) JJ Clinic about a week ago because I wanted to get a pap smear done and I was told the lab people were on strike,” Nonyane said.
“We are still trying to get to the bottom of this”
“We are also still trying to get to the bottom of this and have engaged the department,” said TAC provincial chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala.
An anonymous source at the NHLS has denied reported stoppages of services and attributed Tshwane service disruptions to student strikes at Pretoria’s Medical University of SA (Medunsa) where an NHLS lab is based.
But NHLS staff at the Medunsa campus confirmed that they suspended services in July and August due to lack of payment by the department of health.
Thoko Madonko runs the civil society Budget Expenditure Monitoring Forum. She says the department is playing a dangerous game by delaying payments to the NHLS.
“If there is a financial crisis then it needs to be resolved urgently, especially because of the importance for our HIV and cervical cancer screening,” she told Health-e News. “The NHLS have pleaded their case and serious steps need to be taken to fix the situation.”
In March, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi suggested that the National Department of Treasury may be called in to fund the NHLS directly after provinces reportedly owed the lab service billions.