Mor­tu­ary staff ‘poorly trained’

KZN Health Dept al­legedly in vi­o­la­tion of Act

The Witness - - NEWS - KERUSHUN PILLAY • kerushun.pillay@wit­ness.co.za

“Some [mor­tu­ary] tech­ni­cians started to flex their mus­cle and made things so dif­fi­cult for us. They would sab­o­tage [med­i­cal] in­stru­ments and swop body tags. It be­came an ex­tremely frus­trat­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

FOR about a decade the KwaZulu­Natal De­part­ment of Health seems to have know­ingly been in vi­o­la­tion of the Health Pro­fes­sions Act by em­ploy­ing un­qual­i­fied mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians.

This is said to be se­ri­ously com­pro­mis­ing the qual­ity of au­top­sies.

The Wit­ness has also es­tab­lished that the de­part­ment ap­par­ently quashed ef­forts to have mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians suit­ably trained and reg­is­tered with the Health Pro­fes­sions Coun­cil of South Africa (HPCSA).

The mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians, who as­sist foren­sic pathol­ogy of­fi­cers, are also al­leged to be dis­obe­di­ent and un­ruly, en­gag­ing in un­law­ful strikes at mor­tu­ar­ies and driv­ing away se­nior staff.

Af­ter foren­sic ser­vices were trans­ferred to the De­part­ment of Health from the SAPS na­tion­ally in 2006, se­nior staff at the KZN Health De­part­ment sought to es­tab­lish a pro­gramme to for­malise the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians through the Dur­ban Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

But for­mer se­nior staff at the de­part­ment said al­leged “in­ter­fer­ence” by the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Health and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union (Ne­hawu) and oth­ers scup­pered the pro­gramme, which lasted just one term.

Ten­sions at the de­part­ment were so high at the time that se­nior staff mem­bers walked out.

Pro­fes­sor Steven Naidoo, who was op­er­a­tional head of foren­sic medicine in Dur­ban be­tween 2003 and 2011, said the “in­abil­ity” to main­tain stan­dards at mor­tu­ar­ies forced him to leave.

“Some tech­ni­cians started to flex their mus­cle and made things so dif­fi­cult for us. They would sab­o­tage [med­i­cal] in­stru­ments and swop body tags. It be­came an ex­tremely frus­trat­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

He added that mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians could not pos­si­bly ac­quire ad­e­quate train­ing on the job. “Their train­ing has not been rat­i­fied through an aca­demic process.”

The de­part­ment did not an­swer de­tailed ques­tions, but said the is­sue of the train­ing of mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians was not lim­ited to KZN. “To this end, the mat­ter is re­ceiv­ing at­ten­tion at na­tional gov­ern­ment level.”

It said post mortems in KZN were be­ing con­ducted by “qual­i­fied and reg­is­tered” pathol­o­gists.

Ne­hawu did not re­spond to ques­tions sent last week.

Two well­placed for­mer de­part­ment em­ploy­ees said Ne­hawu and the de­part­ment, which is al­legedly “in­flu­enced” by the union, saw that the pro­gramme col­lapsed be­cause mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians feared they would not pass the course.

They said un­qual­i­fied mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians do not de­serve their cur­rent level­seven salary grad­ing.

A pro­posed amendment to KZN mor­tu­ary ser­vices for­mally sub­mit­ted by se­nior staff to the de­part­ment in May 2009 de­tailed how mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians should be con­sid­ered “trainees” and kept in the level­five bracket un­til prop­erly qual­i­fied and reg­is­tered with HPCSA.

“But they wanted to be con­firmed as mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians be­fore they un­der­went any train­ing,” one source said. “We planned for them to get their diploma and [on site] train­ing and then get con­firmed, and once that hap­pens they’d be en­ti­tled to a higher salary.”

The source al­leged: “But they were ask­ing ‘why do we need to train when us keep­ing the job will de­pend on us pass­ing’.”

Both sources said they saw poor re­sults of all tech­ni­cians en­rolled in the DUT pro­gramme, which was launched in 2008. “Pres­sure from [Ne­hawu] was so pow­er­ful that the pro­gramme [col­lapsed]. Mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians en­gaged in con­stant strikes, which is un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour.”

Another source said: “The de­part­ment did not sup­port us.”

HPCSA spokesper­son Priscilla Sekho­nyana con­firmed mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians were not reg­is­tered with the body.

“The reg­is­tra­tion of mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians to the HPCSA is cur­rently be­ing ad­dressed by the [rel­e­vant] board.”

Sekho­nyana did not re­spond to fol­low­up ques­tions about which board this was and whether the HPCSA deemed the KZN Health De­part­ment to be in con­tra­ven­tion of the Health Pro­fes­sions Act.

A no­tice in the Gov­ern­ment Gazette said mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians have to be reg­is­tered with a “pro­fes­sional board for med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy”.

Un­qual­i­fied staffers are not al­lowed to han­dle hu­man tis­sue with­out be­ing suit­ably reg­is­tered, sources said.

As far back as 2010, KZN MEC for Health Dr Si­bongiseni Dhlomo wrote to the Med­i­cal Rights Ad­vo­cacy Net­work (Meran) in­form­ing them that the de­part­ment had “iden­ti­fied cer­tain de­fi­cien­cies” with foren­sic ser­vices and had set up a task team. He wrote that be­cause there was no place for for­mal mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cian train­ing, the de­part­ment had “in­house” train­ing pro­grammes for tech­ni­cians.

A 2011 let­ter by Meran no­ti­fied Health Min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi that em­ploy­ing un­reg­is­tered mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians was “in breach of the law”.

This let­ter was ac­knowl­edged by the min­istry.

Spokesper­son for Meran, Poonitha Naidoo, said not be­ing reg­is­tered with the HPCSA meant there was no eth­i­cal body for KZN mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians to ac­count to.

“It is im­por­tant for the jus­tice sys­tem ... they need to probe cause of death. Ev­i­dence needs to be prop­erly pro­duced. The work needs to be hon­est, cred­i­ble and a doc­u­ment wor­thy for an in­quest.”

Pro­fes­sor Naidoo said: “One day there will be a rul­ing by a judge that talks of great mal­prac­tice [by mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cians], then sud­denly the pub­lic will say ‘I can’t be­lieve those peo­ple have been oper­at­ing on our dead rel­a­tives’.”

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