Liver unit merger may be just a start
Mary Ann Benitez
The Hospital Authority's decision to concentrate all liver transplants at one specialist hospital could be the first of similar restructuring for other units conducting life-saving transplants, legislators were told yesterday.
Ko Wing-man, the authority's director of professional services and public affairs, denied that the merger of the two liver transplant units would result in reduced teaching quality at Prince of Wales Hospital.
He admitted that communications were flawed in the decision to close the Chinese University's liver transplant centre at the Prince of Wales at Sha Tin and merge it with the University of Hong Kong centre based at Queen Mary Hospital.
'With hindsight, we should have done a better job [in communicating the decision] and we are now trying to remedy the situation,' he said. The decision has triggered a public row between the two medical schools and came after a whistle-blower at the Sha Tin hospital revealed a donor liver had been wasted.
Dr Ko's comments came before members of Legco's health services panel unanimously passed a motion by Andrew Cheng Kar-foo calling on the authority to put on hold the merger of the two centres. But the vote is non-binding on the government.
When legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan asked if the liver decision was 'the starting point' of changes in transplant arrangements, Dr Ko replied: 'Mr Ho is right. For each specialty has its own complexity and we need to look at demand for certain types of operations as well.'
Dr Ko said that open-heart surgery, for example, would continue at existing hospitals because no one centre could cope with more than 100 patients needing surgery.
'As to whether there is a need to re-organise the transplants of other organs, in fact we have reduced the number of kidney transplant [centres] as well,' he said.
Dr Ko said the authority was now trying to mend fences between the two universities.
He said he could not release a copy of reports by international and local experts that the authority said had made the recommendations on organ transplants.
'We do not actually have a formal consultants' report,' Dr Ko said.
'We had a peer review. It will be difficult for us to submit it in writing because it is not a consultants' report in the public domain.'
Legislator Yeung Sum criticised the two liver transplant centres for becoming embroiled in a media war of words.
'I think the two universities should not openly disclose the figures [of transplant success] and say how good or how bad the surgeries are,' he said.
Dr Yeung also criticised the Secretary for the Health, Welfare and Food, Yeoh Eng-kiong, for not disclosing the merger plan to legislators. 'I only read about the merger from the press,' he said.
Thirteen patients of the Liver Living Association held a petition protest after the vote in front of the Legco chambers.