The National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) faced a backlog of almost 40 000 toxicology tests at its three forensic chemistry laboratories as at the end of October.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the forensic laboratories completed 365 tests during the month of October.
He said the NHLS had implemented strategies to address the backlogs in toxicology testing at the laboratories.
The toxicology tests are conducted at three forensic chemistry laboratories in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria.
The Cape Town laboratory had a backlog of 682 toxicology tests; Johannesburg 14 700; and, Pretoria 16 437.
Phaahla said the factors that contributed to the backlog included inadequate infrastructure, equipment breaking down, load shedding, inadequate water supply, the Covid-19 pandemic and shortages in human resources.
“The NHLS has implemented strategies to address the backlogs in toxicology testing at the forensic chemistry laboratories. In this regard, the blood alcohol testing backlog has been cleared in all laboratories except the Johannesburg forensic chemistry laboratory.”
He also said the NHLS would expand the toxicology capacity in the laboratories to ensure an increase in the processing capacity.
“Additional laboratory space has been acquired from the CSIR that will accommodate a new toxicology section for the Pretoria forensic laboratory. Similar solutions are being explored for the Johannesburg and Cape Town forensic chemistry laboratories.
“The NHLS has invested significantly in ensuring laboratories are equipped with functional analytic instruments through the replacement of ageing and obsolete equipment and the procurement of additional instruments for the planned expansion in services.”
Phaahla said there were also plans under way to source additional laboratory space that would allow the Durban forensic chemistry laboratory to expand its service offering to include toxicology testing.
He noted that toxicology cases were time-consuming and that was mainly due to the complex nature and variability of the cases and testing processes as well as the requirement for special reference materials to complete cases.
“For these reasons, toxicology cases are allocated in batches to each analyst at the beginning of each month and laboratory outputs are measured on a monthly basis.
“Each toxicology analyst is allocated at least 15 cases per month.”
Phaahla said the NHLS was determined to implement strategies to clear the backlogs in toxicology testing at the forensic chemistry laboratories.
“At this stage it would be difficult to determine when the backlogs would be cleared. As can be seen from the various efforts that have been made, the NHLS is working towards clearing the backlog as fast as possible,” he said to a question.