Fourth death linked to clinic drug blunder

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2005, 12:00am

A fourth person is suspected to have died from a drug mix-up involving a Wong Tai Sin doctor's clinic. The death was disclosed yesterday by health authorities, which said 64 out of 152 people known to have mistakenly received a diabetes drug had become ill. Eighteen had to be admitted to hospital.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Medical Association and health minister York Chow Yat-ngok met last night to discuss measures to ensure safe dispensing of drugs in doctors' clinics.

The Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food suggested the association start a scheme under which health cards were provided to all patients of family doctors specifying their medical history and medications. The cards could be taken to public hospitals if the patients sought treatment from them.

'If the patient has been admitted to hospital, we hope the doctor there would notify the private or family doctor responsible for the patient because our present patients' record system is not computerised,' Dr Chow said. 'If no one tells the private doctor, the private doctor will not know his patient has been admitted.'

The health cards would identify the doctor, the diagnosis and medication so hospital doctors would know the patients' history and which doctors to contact, association president Dr Choi Kin said, adding that such a scheme could be implemented in a few months.

Dr Chow and the association agreed the drug blunder was not a problem of lack of qualifications but a failure in risk management, said association council member Alvin Chan Yee-sing.

The latest death involved a 72-year-old woman who attended the clinic of solo practitioner Ronald Li Sai-lai in the Chuk Yuen shopping centre on January 15.

She was prescribed a drug labelled simethicone for stomach problems, which was later found to be a diabetes drug, gliclazide. The woman was admitted to Baptist Hospital in April and transferred to Prince of Wales. On April 28, she was sent to Sha Tin's Bradbury Hospice, where she died on May 13.

The Department of Health said that when the woman was first admitted to hospital, she did not have low blood sugar. Police have reported her case to the coroner.

Among the 145 patients who have been contacted so far, 64 were reported to have low blood sugar after taking the medicine dispensed by Dr Li. Of 18 patients admitted to hospital, four have died and 13 have been discharged. Only an 89-year-old woman has remained in hospital since May 25, a Health Department statement said.

Police, immigration and housing officers are helping to track down seven patients who have not been contacted.

A total of 212 people have called the department's hotline, 2575 1221, since last Friday.

George Woo, associate dean of the faculty of health and social sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic, yesterday called on the Medical Council to suspend Dr Li. 'This is a serious matter that the council should be looking into,' he said. 'It is not an isolated incident.'

Dr Li closed his clinic voluntarily on the advice of the Department of Health. Police are still investigating. No one has been charged.