A forensic analyst at the Pretoria Forensic Laboratory may have been reporting fictitious drug and toxin results for years, potentially putting hundreds of criminal and insurance claims at risk. News24 reports that a number of documents has been seen, which show that the analyst repeatedly reported there was “insufficient specimen for further drug analysis” on almost all of her reports since 2013. These reports all appear to have been signed off by managers in the toxicology section.
The report says two weeks ago, the Department of Health issued a media release which indicated that the analyst had been suspended and that they had called in the Hawks to investigate, as the allegations against the analyst were both criminal and fraudulent. The department said the analyst had allegedly failed to follow proper procedure when analysing blood samples, and that this was discovered during a routine quality inspection. They had also referred the matter to the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), as this could affect the criminal justice system. The report says the documents show that the analyst may have been doing more than just not following procedure. Sources who had some knowledge of the case said that the most disturbing thing about the allegations was that the analyst’s reports were authorised by managers.
The whistleblower said there was a batch of more than 60 samples that all said there was “insufficient sample for further analysis”. “You can get one or two samples that come out saying there are not sufficient samples for further analysis, but not 60 in a row. That isn’t possible,” the source said. “We believe she may have thrown the excess samples down the drain and then claimed there was not enough of the sample available to analyse.”
The report says if true, this could have been happening for many years, as the analyst previously worked in another forensic laboratory before joining the Pretoria Laboratory in 2013. The source said the analyst was even once praised in a staff meeting for completing so many cases in such a short space of time. She was allegedly given a merit award and given a day off.
It is not the first time that the Pretoria Forensic laboratory has been at the centre of scandal, the report says. The 2015/16 Auditor General’s report found that there was broken equipment and bad management at the lab. The labs have been in the spotlight for a number of years, particularly because of the backlog in getting samples analysed and released, leading to long delays in finalising criminal cases. The last time the number of backlogs at the labs was published was in 2014. At the time, it was heading toward 60 000 samples nationally.
Health department spokesperson Joe Maila is quoted in the report as saying that they were investigating all the allegations, including those that management may have had a role to play in what happened.
The situation needed to be improved, said the source, as it was putting drunk driving cases, post-mortem, drug and toxin reports at risk. “People have been given criminal records and people have been denied insurance claims as a result of these fake and fictitious results,” the source said. “It’s not acceptable and it can’t be swept under the carpet.”
The Department of Health issued a statement saying: “The Department of Health has put one of its forensic analysts, based in Pretoria Forensic Laboratory Services on precautionary suspension from employment in terms of clause 7.2 of the PSCBC resolution 1 of 2003 with full pay.
“However, the matter is handed over to the Hawks as the department believes that the allegations levelled against the official are criminal and fraudulent. It is alleged that the official failed to follow strict and proper operational (protocols) procedures when analysing blood samples as detected during a routine quality inspection by senior officials.
“The forensic laboratories provide blood alcohol analysis, toxicology (poison detection services) and food analysis. There are four forensic laboratories that provide these functions and are in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The functions of the Forensic Laboratory Services are extremely important for the criminal justice system, the insurance system and the health of the nation as whole.
Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said: “We hold the work of the Forensic Laboratory Services in high regard and therefore expects nothing less than professionalism, high standards of ethics and absolute honesty. Any breach of strict protocols and procedures by officials in such a sensitive sector is regarded in a very serious light and will not be tolerated. It is unacceptable.”
The Department of Health has referred the matter to the relevant law enforcement agencies for further investigation and due to the serious nature of this transgression, the department urges the police to move swiftly to investigate the matter so that justice can be done.
The department has also referred the matter to the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) for further guidance as the work of the forensic laboratory services have impact on the criminal justice system.