Concerns grow over backlog of post mortem at Park Rynie Mortuary

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The Park Rynie forensic mortuary on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal is under immense strain since the closure of the embattled Gale Street Mortuary in Durban earlier this year.

According to the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on health, Doctor Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the mortuary currently operates with only one doctor. It also does not have the proper equipment like X-ray machines.

Doctor Dhlomo spent the morning conducting post mortems on four victims who were gunned down in Umbumbulu last week. This after their families complained about being unable to bury their loved ones over the weekend due to a backlog at the Park Rynie mortuary.

Park Rynie Mortuary in the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal under immense pressure: 


During a visit to the facility on Monday, Dhlomo found that the only doctor based at the morgue was on leave, meaning that no post mortems could be done, prompting him to undertake the post mortems on the four victims himself on Thursday. While Dhlomo would not formally confirm a backlog, he says he has written to the Minister of Health about the situation.

“Your simple arithmetic will tell you that there will be an increasing backlog if you are taking the scenario that I have just painted in terms of numbers. I can only get that information from Dr Mkhize as to what is the plan in the event there is a backlog. But the basic thing is that if you are adding functions to Park Rynie, without adding resources like doctors, you surely have a challenge. That has to be sorted out. You cannot be able to say you bring a community of a million and a half to be serviced by the same mortuary, but there are no resources to follow that function. It does not make sense – it is not possible.”

Dhlomo says what further exacerbated the problem is that doctors from the Gale Street facility were allowed to decide where they wanted to be redeployed. He says none of the doctors opted to be moved to the Park Rynie mortuary. He says he has also asked the Minister for clarity on whether the closure of the Gale Street Mortuary is permanent or temporary.

“With the closure of Gale street, the communities of Isipingo and the whole of Umlazi is services by this mortuary. There are no additional doctors who came in with that type of function. There are reasonably enough pathology officers; yes we commend them. But we learnt also that doctors were given a privileged and a choice to decide where to go with the closure of Gale Street, which by the way I have written to Minister Mkhize about – is it permanent or temporary – so doctors we were given a choice to go to Pinetown, Phoenix or Park Rynie – and no doctor chose to come to Park Rynie and that is what will worsen the situation at this mortuary.”

Meanwhile, the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa provincial chairperson – Halalisani Gumede – says they are concerned about the possible contamination of bodies at the mortuary as the morgue’s storage capacity is also limited.

“So now Park Rynie is a big mortuary but the capacity to store people who have stayed longer than fourteen days, people who are unknown, it can only store six people – our fridges. So now what is happening is contamination. Those people who are decomposing are mixed with those people who have died maybe with gunshots and other deaths. So now the challenge is that now there is contamination in the mortuary”.

Gumede says the decision to close down the Gale Street mortuary should have been more carefully considered. He says while the facility faced numerous challenges, it did serve a considerable portion of the community. He adds that the Department of Health should have also had oversight over the redeployment of doctors.

“It is a lack of management skills I would say because now when they were closing gale street, they knew capacity was going to increase in Park Rynie, so it was the department who was supposed to decide on doctors – not doctors who were to decide themselves. Because now how can you decide to close a facility as big as Gale Street and let doctors decide wherever they want to go”.

The Park Rynie mortuary serves the area between Umbumbulu and Umkomaas on the South Coast. Umlazi and Isipingo with a population of 1-point-5 million have been added after the closure of the Gale Street mortuary. The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department was not available for comment.  -Reporting by Genevieve Lanka