Parliamentary Question: Forensic Chemistry Laboratories



Dr L L Bosman (DA) to ask the Minister of Health:
(1) Whether any of the three forensic chemistry laboratories have a backlog in analysing (a) blood samples, (b) food and (c) toxicology reports; if so, (i) what is the extent of the backlog at each laboratory and (ii) how long will it take to eliminate the backlog at each of the laboratories;

(2)how many (a) blood, (b) food and (c) toxicology reports have been completed by each of the laboratories for each of the past twelve months for which information is available?

(1)(a), (b), (c) Yes, all the three forensic chemistry laboratories in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg have backlogs in blood alcohol, food and toxicology reports.
(a)The following table reflects the information in this regard:

January 2011

Cape Town



Drunken driving alcohol
7 428
7 347
9 479

Post-mortem alcohol
1 307
3 070
6 656

4 107
7 423
6 443

Food analysis

Not done
(b)The following table reflects the details in this regard:

Pretoria Laboratory
a.Blood acohol. With 6 analysts and additional posts (15 analysts in total) filled by April 2011, including the payment of overtime from April, the backlog should be worked down by August 2011.
b.Food. It would be possible to work the backlog down by June 2011 with the current staff if the two additional posts for Food analysis are filled and provided that there will be no rotation of staff to blood alcohol and if overtime is allowed.
c.Toxicology. Backlog will be reduced with the staffing of the five vacant posts and filling of additional posts (14 posts in total) and the payment of overtime, it is foreseen that the backlog will be worked down in two years. Newly appointed staff will have to be trained before they can start being fully productive.

Cape Town Laboratory
a.Blood Alcohol: Backlog will be worked down by December 2011 provided that the 5 newly appointed analysts have been assessed and approved as technical signatories and no technical signatories resign.
b.Food: Backlog will be worked down in one year after filling of additional posts.
c.Toxicology: Backlog will be worked down in two and a half years after filling of additional posts.

Johannesburg Laboratory
a.Blood Alcohol. With the current staff (4 analysts in Blood Alcohol) the backlog should be worked down in 12 months.
b.Toxicology. With the current staff (12 analysts), the Toxicology backlog should be worked down in two and a half years.
(2)The following table reflects the situation in this regard:

Total completed 2010

Cape Town



Drunk driving alcohol
20 601
8 735
4 429

Post mortem alcohol
7 467
5 709
3 589

Food analysis
3 004
1 047

Not done


Cape Town: This laboratory receives the largest number of blood alcohol samples compared to the other two laboratories. These samples have to be processed for the court in the shortest space of time. This has resulted in the analysts spending more time in blood analysis as compared to toxicology analysis. This is done through rotation of analysts for 3 months blood alcohol and 1 month toxicology. This rotation will change with the appointment of additional staff.

Cape Town laboratory has also experienced resignation of a number of toxicology analysts and this is a very highly specialised area that needs intensive training.

Johannesburg: The backlog is exacerbated by the fact that no analysis has been done continuous in both Toxicology and blood since the renovations commenced to there will be no reports as some of the analysis has stopped completely.

Pretoria: The laboratory does not receive large number of food samples as compared to the Cape Town laboratory. An analyst spends 3 weeks in toxicology and 1 week in blood alcohol on a rotational basis in a month.

The analysis is best understood when you look at how much is received and how much is processed. Toxicology takes longer because most of the time the analysts receive specimen with unknown pesticides or drugs and they have to test for more than 20 compounds until they get the correct one that caused death.

For all the laboratories even when they do internal training they do not immediately put analysts on toxicology cases until such time they are competent to do this.