NHLS needs urgent payment from health depts

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cape Town - The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has told MPs that it might have to shut down if some provincial health departments do not pay their debts.

Speaking out on the issue of non-payment, particularly by the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Departments, the entity said it would implore the National Treasury or the Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi to come up with a plan.

On Wednesday, the organisation presented its fifth unqualified 2010/11 annual report to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Health.

"[If we] don't get money, the service will collapse. We can't keep providing laboratory services when we are owed lots of money. We are at a critical point, the service is closing down. This is no exaggeration," NHLS Chairperson Advocate Sesi Baloyi told MPs.

The entity was established in terms of the National Health Laboratory Service Act in 2000 to provide cost-effective and efficient health laboratory services to all public sector health care providers. It was also tasked with supporting health research and providing training for health science education.

Baloyi said several meetings had been held with the provinces in the past so that they could pay up but they had not done so.

In its report, NHLS said the Gauteng Health Department's monthly consumption was R98 million but it had offered to pay R88 million per month - a deal they declined.

Only R79 million and R19 million was paid in the last two months respectively, said the report, indicating that they had handed the department a final letter of demand.

The department told the committee that they supported the entity and they would pay up what they owed.

However, it also said that NHLS services were too expensive and wanted to see the fee structure revised downwards.

Baloyi said the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department was giving different reasons for non-payment, including that their services were too expensive or they did not subscribe to them.

While it was not clear how much that department owed them, the NHLS told MPs that they were being paid R34 million a month.

Baloyi said that the last thing they would do was take legal action against departments.

The committee suggested that a meeting be called between the National Department of Health, KwaZulu-Natal provincial Health Department and NHLS to solve the problem.

It also urged departments to pay up because if the NHLS collapsed, ordinary people would suffer.