Pathology backlog reflects spiralling homicide rate

Staff Writer | Jul 22, 2019
Winter usually brings a heavier workload of pathology cases at Cape Town’s Tygerberg mortuary because of the rise in season-related illnesses – but a spike in murders has added to it.

The number of cases has shot up because of Cape Town’s spiralling rate of violent crime and homicides, according to a report in the Mail & Guardian.

The report quotes Senior State Pathologist Johan Dempers as saying: ‘In the Cape Metro, up to 15 July this year, we saw 943 firearm associated deaths, 553 stab wound-associated deaths, and 215 blunt force trauma-related cases.’

As a result, state pathologists had fallen behind in conducting post-mortems.

Dempers said: ‘The (Inquest) Act does not specify in what way the body needs to be examined. So, in theory, one can do an external examination if you can get all the information you require. But in order to maintain standards and supply information to the courts that is as concise and waterproof as possible the pathologist has no choice but to conduct a full autopsy on unnatural death cases.’

These meticulous post-mortems were time-consuming and led to backlogs.

Dempers said it normally took two to three days to process a body. During busy periods, it could take as long as a week or more.

‘There are 24 forensic pathology posts in the Cape Metro. We need at least 40 to 50 to deal with what we’ve got at the moment. Even if we get five more posts, we’ll be up to date. It’s unlikely there will be significant research done on cases that require this further resource,’ he said.

The province was struggling to attract young, qualified pathologists to the profession.

 ‘The metro is the epicentre [of homicide in the Western Cape]. Our resources are completely depleted. We are doing our best to get to all the cases. But it’s perfectly understandable why there’s a backlog,’ Dempers told the newspaper.


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