State of mortuaries still a concern

By Andrew Louw MPL DA Provincial Leader:

The DA welcomes the closure of the file on the Kuruman Hospital by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) following reports last year that human blood was spilling from the facility’s mortuary. Nonetheless, we still have serious concerns regarding the general conditions of mortuaries in the Northern Cape.

The HRC responded swiftly to our request for an investigation into what eventually transpired to be a blocked drain at the state mortuary in Kuruman. We are satisfied with the HRC’s findings as well as the action that the Northern Cape Department of Health has taken in response to the specific incident that occurred in December last year.

This includes an ongoing intervention that was put in place for Kuruman autopsies to be conducted at a private undertaker’s firm until all the infrastructure challenges have been addressed.

What worries us, however, is that, to date, mortuary upgrades at Kuruman and other hospitals remain incomplete.

This is despite a cash injection into the Kuruman Hospital last financial year, which saw the department spend R1,9 million on plumbing, R680 909 on painting and R2,2 million on flooring.

Minimal interventions also took place at Kimberley mortuary and the department has conceded that a lot still needs to be done to address and contain the non-compliance issues and improve the working environment, as well as service delivery outputs as per demands.

In fact, according to the department’s 4th Quarter Performance Report for 2014/2015, the Health Department itself has indicated that “the current state of mortuaries, especially Kuruman, Kimberley and De Aar facilities, are still a huge concern, as they do not comply with health and safety requirements and also do not provide ideal working environments”.

Furthermore, mortuary facilities across the province are not disaster ready, soliciting urgent attention to plan and fund relevant projects.

The department has indicated that it will bid for additional funding to address budget issues affecting the completion of upgrades to provincial mortuaries.

The DA believes that the time for plotting and drawing up business plans is over and that the department needs to prioritize the mortuary situation right away.

It is unacceptable that there is still no dedicated capital budget to deal with mortuary infrastructure issues. The decline of our mortuaries did not happen overnight. Instead, the rot set in well over 10 years ago, when senior management failed to address the upkeep of the forensic pathology facilities and services. The resultant dangerous state of our mortuaries in turn had a snowball effect on staff capacity, not only causing an exodus of medical staff working in the  state mortuaries, but also hampering the department’s ability to recruit and retain forensic doctors.

The DA calls on MEC Mac Jack to urgently address the mortuary issue before the people of the Northern Cape experience a repeat of the bloody horror of 2014. The health of staff working at these facilities must be protected. At the same time, the deceased should be treated and kept in a dignified environment.

The DA has submitted parliamentary questions to the department to ascertain the degree of non-compliance of our mortuaries, as well as the estimated costs to complete required upgrades.