Child 'given disinfectant, not cough syrup'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am

Health officials say storage bottles had correct medicine as they investigate possibility of dispensing mix-up

At least one child involved in a drug mix-up at a Tung Chung clinic may have been given disinfectant alcohol instead of cough syrup, a source close to the investigation said last night.

The doctor involved prescribed a transparent syrup to 31 children - instead of 50 as initially reported.

A Health Department probe of the mix-up found that four bulk bottles seized from the clinic had contained the correct cough syrup. 'Isopropyl alcohol was not detected [in those bottles],' it said.

The source said this indicated the mistake was likely to have occurred during dispensing.

'One of the scenarios we are looking into is that instead of the syrup, one or more patients were mistakenly given the alcohol,' the source said, adding both the alcohol and syrup were transparent. 'This would explain why some patients we contacted did not report any problems while several did.'

The department yesterday contacted 20 of the 31 patients. Of these 20 children, only four had complained of throat irritation, nausea or vomiting, but their symptoms had subsided.

Director of Health Lam Ping-yan yesterday called on private doctors and clinic staff to be extra cautious while dispensing medicine, but added even public hospitals and clinics sometimes made mistakes.

Private doctor Hin Lin-yee closed his clinic at Yat Tung Shopping Centre for a week following the mix-up revelation.

The department on Wednesday announced that children were being sought after one of them was admitted to hospital complaining of a burning sensation in his mouth each time he took the medicine.

The hospital notified the department that the mixture contained isopropyl alcohol, which is used as an industrial disinfectant. The six-year-old boy, who had taken three 5mm doses before his mother took him to Princess Margaret Hospital on Tuesday, was in a satisfactory condition last night. He visited Dr Hin on Monday and was treated for a running nose and allergy.

Dr Hin, who earned his medical degree in Belfast in 1994, had never been subject to disciplinary action, the Medical Council secretariat said.

By 5pm yesterday, when the department hotline 2125 2727 closed for the day, 13 of the 96 totals calls logged were related to the mix-up, a department spokeswoman said.

A few of Dr Hin's patients came to the clinic only to find it closed.

'My three-year-old son came to see the doctor for a cold on August 29. He has taken the medicine for seven days and doesn't look any better,' one mother, Mrs Cheung, said.

She said her son had been prescribed a different syrup than the one involved in the mix-up but feared the other syrup might also have been mixed up.

Isopropyl alcohol can cause a burning sensation in the mouth, vomiting and, in large doses, headache, dizziness and even death.