Shortages of medicine at clinics and hospitals – raid at NW medical depot uncovers unpaid invoices worth millions

Clinics in Madibeng and the rest of North West have suffered shortages of essential medication for years and a raid at the North West health department’s medical depot in Mmabatho this week uncovered why – unpaid invoices worth many millions of Rands were discovered hidden away at the depot.

“One of the invoices found in a drawer was for more than R16 million,” said health spokesperson, Tebogo Lekgwetane. Four managers, two from the medical depot and two from the provincial office, have been suspended for alleged mismanagement of the depot and staff, as well as expired medication.

Lekgwetane said a team from the North West Department of Health led by the administrator, Jeanette Hunter, raided the offices on Wednesday, 12 August 2020, and uncovered unpaid invoices of 50 companies worth millions. Some of the unpaid invoices date back to 2014.

The North West health department was placed under administration in 2018. “When the administration team arrived in the department in 2018 the stock level of essential medicine was at 64% and through intervention, it was improved to about 85%. However, the level dropped again in the beginning of the year and some companies stopped delivering medicine in March 2020, citing none payment of invoices.”

He said despite the fact that money was made available to the depot in April this year, the stock level did not improve and the department received technical assistance to speed up payment of suppliers. During this process it was discovered that a number of invoices were missing, explaining why suppliers were not paid.

“A decision was then made to raid the offices and block workers from accessing the depot. The search uncovered a number of unpaid invoices and the search continues. One unpaid invoice that was found at the medical depot in a drawer was worth more than R16 million.”

Lekwetane said the department will verify all invoices before the companies are paid.

North West health MEC Madoda Sambatha expressed his dismay at the situation. “It breaks my heart to know that there are people in the department who decide to withhold payment of medicine which should be assisting our parents, family members and communities at large. It’s treasonous and the situation has to be corrected.”

He said people employed by the department to process the invoices did not do their job and following the raid, the department can now work on a plan to catch up with payment of suppliers. “This will lead to improved availability of medicine at clinics and hospitals. A plan to improve delivery timelines and turnaround is in place. It involves direct deliveries of medication to hospitals while the medical depot will now deliver directly to clinics.”