The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been reliably informed of significant delays at Albert Luthuli Hospital’s National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) – which has allegedly led to a backlog of more than 20 000 tests from across KwaZulu-Natal.
The facility is currently the only accredited public sector testing site for Covid-19 in the province, with all public hospital and community testing being transported there for analysis.
The DA is deeply concerned by this information. The backlog means that not only are people being put at risk – it also raises serious questions around the full extent of infections in KZN. It also supports the numerous reports we have received from clinicians regarding hold ups in the testing process as well as those from public sector doctors of up to 14 days in receiving Coronavirus test results.
The backlogs and delays also have a major impact on clinical management of patients. In addition, there is a major impact on the spread of the virus, contact tracing and notification, self-isolation and quarantining of affected persons. This is exacerbated in the current well-reported spread of the virus in health facilities.
This means that there is a possibility of contacts still working in hospitals and clinics treating patients and interacting with colleagues, as their ‘patient zero’ still awaits their test result.
Equally alarming is that the DA had to learn about the backlog and other statistics from concerned sources within the health system, rather than KZN’s Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu. This again highlights the current lack of information, transparency and accountability when it comes to this health pandemic by the MEC and her Department.
To date there has also been no response to the DA’s repeated calls for more user-friendly Covid-19 data to be distributed to the public. It is for this reason that the DA has submitted a Public Access to Information Application (PAIA) in a bid to force the release of these statistics and others regarding daily infection rates, facility readiness and intra-facility infection rates. There is legislated timeframe for responding to a PAIA application and we are monitoring this very closely.
In the interim, the DA expects the MEC to intervene. We are led to believe that there is a shortage of testing kits and reagents in public sector laboratories and she and her Department must deal with this. The situation is evident in the national statistics, where private laboratories still outnumber public laboratories in daily testing breakdown.
The DA also expects the MEC and her Department to engage in a public-private partnership with private laboratories in the province to test public sector samples. This will reduce the turnaround time
In addition to increased transparency levels, the MEC and her Department need to adopt a far more proactive approach if they are to give both patients and healthcare workers more confidence in the system.