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35 000 test backlog at forensic science labs

Ageing, unreliable equipment has resulted in a backlog of 35 776 tests at the forensic chemistry laboratories in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, the problem being compounded by the national department’s lack of expertise and resources to tackle the challenges.

Meanwhile, close to 1 000 unidentified bodies have piled up in Gauteng’s mortuaries, and an appeal has been issued to families who are missing relatives or friends to claim the bodies.

In response to a parliamentary question last week by Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald regarding the backlog of toxicology reports, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said 11 948 samples had been taken between one and five years ago, 3 391 samples between five and eight years ago, and 2 158 between eight and nine years ago, reports News24.

“The backlogs resulted from the insufficiency of goods and services, delays in procurement and a shortage of skilled staff, as well as the nature and volume of the samples that must be tested, and the high incidence of urgent requests.

“There are normally multiple samples per case, thus one case can comprise blood, urine, stomach content, liver, bile and drugs, all linked to one body. Additionally, the import of certified reference materials to confirm and quantify controlled substances is a very lengthy process, delaying laboratory testing,” he said.

The labs have now been transferred from the Department of Health to the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), given their efficiency as a specialised service.

“The NHLS will explore, among other things, the possibility of a public-private partnership,” he added.

And on Monday, Gauteng Health & Wellness MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko expressed concern about the growing number of unclaimed bodies in the custody of the province’s Forensic Pathology Service (FPS).

“There are families who have been looking for their loved ones, not knowing where they are. We encourage them to visit FPS mortuaries to check if they are among the unclaimed bodies, and if so, they can give them a proper burial,” she said

Unidentified bodies are in 11 mortuaries across the province: in Bronkhorstspruit, 8; Ga-Rankuwa, 69; Pretoria, 263; Germiston, 127; Heidelberg, 9; Sebokeng, 94; Springs, 49; Carletonville, 45; Diepkloof, 49; Johannesburg, 187, and Roodepoort, 38.

The department said that if no one identified the bodies within seven days, their fingerprints would be sent to the SA Police Service for identification by the Criminal Record Centre and to the Department of Home Affairs to see if their relatives could be identified.

However, if the bodies remain unidentified after 30 days the state would bury them.


News24 article – Gauteng health MEC concerned about growing number of unidentified bodies in mortuaries (Open access)


News24 article – Health department battles with backlog of over 35 000 tests at forensic laboratories (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Shoddy systems at JHB forensic science lab puts cases at risk


Cele blames COVID-19 and finances for massive Forensic Science Lab backlog


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