Forensic pathology services fell under the ambit of the South African Police Services (SAPS). A signed memorandum of understanding amongst the National Department of Health (NDoH), Department of Public Works and SAPS, in 2006, transferred the responsibility from SAPS to the Department of Health (DoH)
Subsequently, the Council concluded Resolution 2 of 2010; the objective of the resolution, being to introduce an Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD), remuneration and career progression for therapeutic, diagnostic and related allied health professionals.
Forensic Pathology Officers (FPOs) are also part of the allied health professionals. The implementation of this resolution had created disparities amongst the FPOs, resulting in inconsistences across the various provinces.
Consequently, the trade unions requested the Council, to review the resolution in order to deal with its unintended effects. The primary concern of the implementation was the downward variation of the salary structure, from levels five (5) and six (6), to a model made up of only two (2) grades; one (1) and two (2) respectively. Whereas, the previous salary structure had four (4) levels to progress in; not only levels five (5) and six (6), but also seven (7) and eight (8) at supervisory positions. The new model eliminated the latter two (2) levels and combined all these levels into only two (2) grades, i.e. one (1) and two (2).
As a result, those FPOs who occupied supervisory positions, such as a senior FPO at level seven (7) and a chief FPO at level eight (8), had to be paid personal notches, and accept that their careers had reached a ceiling, because of the lack of any further grade progression; which is contrary to the letter and spirit of the resolution. Hence, the provinces started to selectively implement the resolution, which created inconsistences. While some provinces decided not to translate levels seven (7) and eight (8), in order to circumvent placing themselves in a precarious position, others tried to force a fit; giving rise to personal notches at the expense of career pathing.
Parallel to these discrepancies, there was a concern of misappropriation of FPOs, i.e. FPOs were found themselves performing functions that they perceived to fall outside their scope of practice, such as dissecting bodies, removing organs, replacing organs, stitching bodies, and preparing organs for investigation by pathologists. According to the FPOs, they understood their duties strictly, to collect (physical collection), process, safekeep and release corpses, record keeping, assist with post-mortem preparations, and attend court, as and when required.
Due to this very conflict, there was a work to rule or withdrawal of these services, by the FPOs in Gauteng, in June 2017, which cascaded to other provinces, like Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. The pressure from the withdrawal of these services, led to the Gauteng Department of Health withdrawing from Resolution 2 of 2010, and remunerating the FPOs through the administrative levels system.
In an attempt to address the conflict, the Council concluded Resolution 4 of 2017, in order to provide for the payment of a special allowance and a danger allowance, to FPOs. The resolution also provided for the payment of a provisional allowance, pending the finalisation of a new model that would take into account all the concerns raised by the FPOs. The provisions were envisaged to take effect within a period of six (6) months, which expired on 29 December 2017. The expiration of the six (6) month period without a new model, led FPOs in Gauteng, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal to again withdraw their services, in March 2018.
The parties at the Council have undertaken to expedite the process and find an amicable and long-lasting solution. Processes are at an advanced stage at the Health Professions Council of South Africa in terms of creating a professional register for the FPO. The regulations relating to the registration of Forensic Pathology Officers have been promulgated by the Minister of Health for public comment. The regulations are pending final promulgation after the inputs by the public.
The Council is also seized with the process of finalising a new model for the FPOs and interested parties and the public will be kept informed about progress.