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NHLS to ramp up toxicology testing to reduce backlog

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) said last week that it would provide additional resources to help reduce the pile of 35 775 outstanding toxicology cases.

The NHLS took over management of the labs from the Department of Health in April 2022 when the backlog was at 33 711.

A range of tests is carried out in the laboratories, including for drugs, alcohol, pesticides, poisons and heavy metals, and the delays, many running into years, are holding up critical police investigations and mortuary autopsy reports as well as not allowing crime victims their day in court, reports BusinessLIVE.

Responding to questions in parliament from FF+ MP Petrus Groenewald, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said about 2 500 of the outstanding toxicology tests were more than 10-years-old, 7 288 were between five and nine-years-old, and 12 000 were up to five-years-old.

“We have initiated a turnaround strategy and are starting to see results, but we want to accelerate its pace,” said NHLS board chairperson Eric Buch, adding that “we have accumulated reserves and are in a position to make the investments required”, without saying how much extra money would be allocated to the labs.

The forensic chemistry laboratories received a R138m conditional grant from the Treasury for the 2022/2023 fiscal year, which was insufficient to cover their expenses, the NHLS said in a written response to questions from Business Day.

It said more than 70% of the cases received for toxicology tests lacked background information, and load shedding had had a severe impact on productivity as samples could not be run during power cuts.

The target turnaround time for new cases was 90 days, it added.

Johannesburg is the busiest facility and received on average 700 cases for the first six months of 2022/2023, followed by Pretoria (600) and Cape Town (260).


BusinessLIVE article – State lab in bid to tackle toxicology test backlog (Restricted access)


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35 000 test backlog at forensic science labs


SA’s Health minister and opposition MP slug it out over forensic failures


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Shoddy systems at JHB forensic science lab puts cases at risk





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