Labour Dept. bungle a ‘death sentence’

Kathryn Kimberley

A PORT Elizabeth father has effectively been condemned to death by the Labour Department’s failure to pay for the life-saving treatment he desperately needs.

Norman Fortuin, 54, of Adcockvale, has been fighting for months to have his R184000 workmen’s compensation claim paid out.

This excludes future medical costs – including a bone- marrow transplant – which the department was also ordered to cover.

In the meantime, Fortuin’s medical bills are piling up.

According to court papers, Fortuin faces the prospect that all his medication could be stopped if the bills are not settled soon.

This could be a death sentence.

Fortuin, who was diagnosed with bone cancer last year due to chemical fumes he inhaled at work, desperately needs a bone-marrow transplant. But this cannot be done until he receives the workmen’s compensation payout.

Meanwhile, the window of opportunity for the life-saving transplant is closing fast.

Although Fortuin has been placed on the bone-marrow registry in the interim, he is worried that once a match is found, he will lose his spot on the registry because he cannot afford the costs.

Just having his name on the registry has cost about R48000 to date – money his wife, Beverley, said they did not have.

In addition, the harvesting and transport of the bone marrow to South Africa will cost about R300000.

Although unable to say how much time such a procedure would add to his life, medical experts indicated in court papers that it had a high success rate.

Despite a ruling by the Port Elizabeth High Court in April ordering the Labour Department to pay all Fortuin’s medical bills, it has allegedly failed to do so.

Fortuin’s condition has, in the meantime, deteriorated to such an extent that he has been given less than six months to live.

He is being held in isolation at St George’s Hospital.

The couple, who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year, said they were praying that matters would be resolved soon.

Beverley said her husband had worked hard all his life and was entitled to compensation now that he was ill. “I am worried about how the family will cope if he does not get better soon.

“The bills are piling up and I am receiving calls to say I owe money, but I cannot do anything until we are paid out. I am trying to remain positive,” she said.

The couple have two adult children.

Fortuin’s lawyer, Schalk Pieterse, was granted an order by the high court last week holding the respondents – including the Minister of Labour, the Labour Department and the Compensation Commissioner – in contempt of court.

The respondents must show cause on Thursday why they should not be imprisoned.

Fortuin’s battle with the state organs dates back to April last year, when he was first diagnosed with cancer.

He had worked at Freeworld Automotive Coatings (Pty) Ltd in Korsten between 1997 and last year as a plant supervisor.

According to court papers, he was exposed to harmful chemicals during his 14-year employment, and developed Myelodysplastic Syndrome (bone cancer) over time.

He became sickly and was medically boarded from work in May last year.

Fortuin was told he urgently needed to undergo a stem-cell transplant before the disease evolved into leukaemia.

In August, his former employer filed a medical report, including an exposure history, with the Compensation Commissioner.

Fortuin also sought the services of claims consultant Arlin Gravett.

Despite numerous attempts from Gravett to have the claim considered on an urgent basis, it lay dormant for six months before the department eventually conceded liability.

On February 29, Fortuin was advised his file would be sent for processing for a 100% disability award.

On March 14, the office of the Compensation Commissioner indicated that the claim, together with details of Fortuin’s medical condition, had been referred to the relevant parties for assessment of treatment.

The commissioner was furnished with Fortuin’s bank details.

In April, the high court ordered the director-general for the Labour Department to pay the compensation, as awarded by the Compensation Commissioner, in staggered payments.

In addition, the director-general was ordered to pay all medical expenses. A costs order was made against the Labour Minister.

Pieterse said yesterday no payment had been received yet.

Last week, he brought an urgent application to the court, asking it to compel the respondents to adhere to the original court order.

He requested that the respondents show cause why they should not be committed to prison for contempt of court.

Provincial Labour Department spokeswoman Vuyokazi Mbanjwa declined to comment.

Questions were put to all the relevant departments and their legal representatives, but none had responded by last night.

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