File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Outrage over huge toxicology reports backlog

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published Jan 9, 2021

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The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) has expressed outrage at the backlogs in toxicology reports at the Department of Health’s laboratories, which currently stands at nearly 30 000.

This comes after Health Minister Zweli Mkhize revealed that 28 818 toxicology reports were outstanding in three of the department's laboratories and that more than 30 000 reports have been outstanding for periods up to more than 10 years.

Mkhize said this when he was responding to parliamentary questions from FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald, who enquired about the total backlog of toxicological reports at the laboratories and the breakdown for the years they had been outstanding.

Groenewald also wanted to know the reasons for the backlog and how the minister intended to eradicate the backlog.

In his written reply, Mkhize said there was a backlog of 28 181 toxicology reports with the Pretoria forensic chemistry laboratory leading with 12 372, followed by Johannesburg with 10 335 and Cape Town with 5 474.

He also said that there were 7 889 reports outstanding for more than 10 years, 2 275 for nine to 10 years, 2 749 eight to nine years, 5 725 five to eight years and 12 724 one to five years.

Mkhize said the number of unprocessed samples included approximately 12 315 cases without SAPS CAS (case administration system) numbers.

“The mandate of the forensic chemistry laboratories is to analyse only samples with SAPS CAS numbers.”

Of the 28 181 unprocessed cases as at last November, only 16 550 cases contained CAS numbers.

The minister said there were several measures that were employed to address the backlog, including the laboratories working overtime on weekends.

“Cases are prioritised for court purposes, to assist families of the deceased to finalise insurance claims, or when children are involved.”

Mkhize also said in terms of the toxicology samples without CAS numbers, an engagement with pathologists would take place to further discuss the matter.

“It should be seriously considered to destroy the toxicology cases that do not have CAS numbers."

Mkhize added that there was also urgent filling of crucial vacancies.There will also be an engagement with the National Treasury to source additional funding for a building for the Pretoria forensic chemistry laboratory.

Groenewald said the serious backlog with toxicology reports was undermining South Africa’s criminal justice system.

“Although the Department of Health is tasked with compiling these reports, the reports relate mainly to testing samples to determine the alcohol levels in motor vehicle drivers’ blood,” he said.

Groenewald said the excuse put forward for the backlog as a lack of case numbers was a serious allegation of incompetence and negligence against the police.

“It is once again the holiday season and the Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, is very busy with his customary campaign against driving under the influence of alcohol. And yet the large number of outstanding reports indicates that there is a real possibility that many drunk drivers will get away without being prosecuted, like those whose reports have still not been issued for a decade or more,” Groenewald said.

He said such a move directly undermined the criminal justice system and the accountability of offenders. Groenewald charged that the state of affairs could be due corruption, where people were protected as case numbers were deliberately withheld, or sheer incompetence.

“It also raises the question of why the two departments never made an attempt to rectify the problem if it is so simple and straightforward. The police are supposed to enforce the law, but this is an example of where the police’s conduct is actually doing the opposite and undermining the criminal justice system.”

Political Bureau

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