Coroner attacks 'rigid' rules after failing to find surgeons

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am


A coroner yesterday criticised the Hospital Authority for being unco-operative, saying he might issue a search warrant to find out which surgeons operated on a police officer who suffered a fatal fall.

Describing the authority as unco-operative and its system as rigid, Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu said there were various occasions when the authority refused to release patients' medical records.

'It's like they're hiding something,' he said.

Chan's frustration boiled over after finding out that a doctor who wrote a report on station sergeant Lau Chi-kin's brain surgery, and had testified about it at the inquest, did not perform the operation.

Lau died after falling from a rain-swept footbridge roof in Central last year.

Dr Tsang Chun-on, from the department of surgery at the University of Hong Kong, told the court he did not see Lau in person, but he wrote the report based on Lau's medical records.

Chan said it made no sense that Tsang was tasked to write the report despite not being involved in the surgery.

'I don't understand why the Hospital Authority has such a strange habit,' the coroner said. 'A clerk would know how to write [the report] too. It's only about copying from the medical records.'

However, Tsang said most doctors accepted that as part of their work.

Chan said he might issue a search warrant to look for Lau's medical records at Queen Mary Hospital, where he was treated, if his surgeons could not be identified through other means.

In that event, the hearing could be delayed for as long as six months.

The report said Lau had suffered 'extensive brain injury'.

Prosecutor Jasmine Ching Wai-ming voiced optimism about summoning the surgeons involved to testify on Friday when the hearing resumes.

Lau fell in June last year after mounting the footbridge roof. Former chicken trader Lau Yuk-tong was there protesting about government compensation for the loss of his business amid efforts to fight bird flu.

In other evidence yesterday, Tse Chun-ming, an occupational safety officer at the Labour Department, said sergeant Lau's glasses could have been blurred by heavy rain.

Tse said it was possible that sergeant Lau could have been seeking shelter under a small piece of canvas on top of an aluminium post and had stepped off the footbridge while being unable to see clearly.

He also said it was not practical to install any equipment on the footbridge to prevent falls. The police operation on the bridge was unplanned and there were many officers and firemen on the roof at the same time. It would have been hard to find enough safety ropes and fixed points on the roof to secure them, Tse said.

The Labour Department's safety guidelines for working at heights did not include wearing a helmet, as it would not prevent a person from falling.