NHLS won’t suspend services to Gauteng, says department

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) will not suspend its services to the Gauteng health department, a spokesperson said on Monday.

"Gauteng made a commitment to pay and we are paying them," department spokesperson Simon Zwane said.

"The services will not be suspended in Gauteng."

He said the department was currently in talks with the NHLS over the amount owed. The department was disputing the amount.

The Star on Monday reported that the KwaZulu-Natal health department owed NHLS R3-billion, while Gauteng owed R900-million.

The NHLS last week threatened to suspend services to both departments if the amounts owed were not paid. NHLS chief executive Sagie Pillay declined to comment.

Zwane said the Gauteng department paid R77-million on Friday.

The NHLS is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa covering around 80% of the population. It provides diagnostic laboratory services, research, production of sera for anti-snake venom, and screening for HIV and tuberculosis patients.

Divisions of the NHLS include the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, National Institute for Occupational Health, National Cancer Registry, and the South African Vaccine Producers.

The KwaZulu-Natal health department referred queries to its head of department Sibongile Zungu, who could not be reached. An official in the department's communications section said she expected the department to issue a statement later on Monday.

Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal MPL Makhosazana Mdlalose said the payment should be made immediately to avert a healthcare crisis. "The KZN health department's ongoing failure to resolve the billing issue with the NHLS is a massive betrayal, both in terms of leadership and its responsibility to state-reliant patients in the province," he said in a statement.

"The news is dire for patients who rely on the public health system. Delayed screening means delayed treatment, which in cases such as HIV and cervical cancer can prove fatal." He said the department showed an alarming lack of urgency on the matter.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa)'s KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Cassim Lekhoathi said they condemned halting the services, but at the same time it was necessary for the department to pay the outstanding account.

"If it is true that it has not paid, the department must attend to this account and pay it. As Denosa we will ask the department to engage the laboratory service." – Sapa

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