Desperate families have turned to courts to secure autopsies for their loved ones so their bodies can be released for burial, amid a “go slow” strike by Gauteng forensic services members.
“I know of three court orders brought by Muslim families who are religiously required to bury within 24 hours of death,” Democratic Alliance’s provincial health spokesperson and MPL Jack Bloom said on Sunday.
He said families had hoped the backlog of over 200 bodies would have been speedily cut when military health staff was brought in, but only seven members were available.
“Pathologists have heroically worked without assistants over this long weekend, but new bodies are coming in all the time and they cannot cope. As there is no fridge space, bodies are being piled on top of each other.”
On Saturday, the high court in Johannesburg granted an order compelling the Diepkloof mortuary to perform an autopsy on Mohammed Bhayat and release his body.
This was after his brother brought an urgent application.
National Health Education & Allied Workers Union spokesperson Khaya Xaba on Thursday denied that the union was undertaking strike action.
“No, you’ve got it wrong. We are not on a strike, we are not on a go-slow, we are simply only doing what is written in our contracts,” Xaba said.
According to Xaba, Nehawu union members are only employed to place bodies onto the beds for pathologists to conduct autopsies
Union members will not assist
“But our members have been assisting in autopsies for many years. It must have been well over 10 years,” Xaba said.
He said the union members will not assist in conducting autopsies until a pay raise is given and learnerships offered for union members to become registered pathologists.
Hospersa, which represents hundreds of pathologists in the country, described the situation in Gauteng as “dire”.
“The department of health has been using staff such as cleaners to cut bodies and perform autopsies. You cannot be remunerated for doing something you are not trained to do,” Hospersa spokesperson Fazeela Fayers told News24 earlier this week.
“We know there is a shortage of pathologists in the country, but you cannot fix something with another wrong.”
It’s illegal for untrained pathologists to conduct autopsies as you have to be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), Fayers said.
Bloom countered that the duties of an assistant, or Grade 1 Forensic Pathology Officer, specifically included working with bodies.
Referring to a copy of a job advert, he said they had to “assist in rendering an efficient forensic autopsy process (which includes evisceration, scribing and typing)”.
“An urgent court order should be brought against the illegal strikers who disrespect the dead and are causing incredible anguish to relatives waiting more than ten days in some instances to bury loved ones,” he said.