The CEO of the National Health Laboratory Service(NHLS), Ms Joyce Mogale, appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health on Wednesday, 12 October 2016, to present some of the achievements realised by the organisation during the past financial year, as outlined in the entity’s 2015 / 16 Annual Report.
The NHLS is one of the entities reporting to the Department of Health, mandated with the responsibility of supporting the national and provincial health departments in the delivery of healthcare. It is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa, providing laboratory and related public health services to over 80% of the population through a national network of laboratories.
When the current CEO took over the leadership of the organisation in December 2014, the NHLS was in urgent need of a serious overhaul. Her role was to come up with a clear strategic direction for the organisation, improve its financial well-being by ensuring cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency, improvement of staff morale and relations with stakeholders, and more importantly, improve service delivery.
Ms Mogale told the Committee that as reported in the entity’s 2015/16 Annual Report, great strides have been made in achieving the above. For example, at the end of the year, the organisation was sitting with a healthy surplus of R279 million, compared with R180 million of the previous year. Revenue also grew from R5.7 billion to R6.4 billion. All these were made possible by improved relations with stakeholders and improvements in the service delivery environment. Suppliers and Service providers also had reason to celebrate as creditor days were also drastically reduced from 125 days in 2015 to 95 days in 2016. She also indicated to the committee that the current creditors’ days are at 42. .
Reflecting on these achievements, Ms Mogale said: “These have been made possible by a number of things, particularly strategic focus on service delivery, financial management and filling of critical posts. For example, the number of pathologists grew by 10.3% (from 194 to 214);medical technologists grew by 2.63%
(from 1 329 to 1 364); the number of medical technicians grew by 13%; and the number of medical scientists grew by 13%. Our medium to long term plan going forward is to ensure that the organisation is well capacitated to deal with the ever-increasing demand for its services, whilst also ensuring that it remains a going concern by being prudent with its financial resources”. She said the organisation has also invested a lot in training, education and skills development: in the previous financial year the NHLS awarded a total of 103 Biomedical Scholarships to students from previously disadvantaged background, as well as 90 bursaries to its employees to further their studies.
The CEO further reported that the NHLS remained resilient during the year, despite the fact that its National Priority Programme’s HIV viral load programme experienced an increase of 38% in HIV viral load tests, resulting in a total of 3.7 million HIV viral load tests being done in the 2015\16 financial year. This resulted in laboratories coming under strain, resulting in the placement of the newer higher throughput Cobas 6800\8800 in five of the organisation’s most burdened laboratories.
In addition to offering diagnostic services through its network of 288 laboratories throughout the country, the NHLS also consists of key institutes such as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), which is responsible for the surveillance and monitoring of communicable diseases; the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), which is responsible for conducting research on Occupational Health; and the South African Vaccine Producers (SAVP), which is the biggest producer of anti-venom medicine in Africa.
In her conclusion, Ms Mogale said: “The NHLS has emerged much stronger than before despite previous challenges, as the renewal of the organisation is starting to deliver solid results. The organisation is well-positioned to continue being a major player in the field of laboratory medicine; and is continuing to work with government to deliver public healthcare services to citizens; and to serve as a benchmark of Africa’s centre of excellence for innovative laboratory medicine. In general, we are very excited about the future”.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service,