Mortuaries get HK$1.5m to computerise system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2007, 12:00am

The Hospital Authority will spend HK$1.5 million to computerise the identification system in mortuaries this year and the government has promised to consider granting resources to expand the mortuaries after a blunder with bodies.

The Prince of Wales Hospital was found on Tuesday to have mixed up two bodies placed in the same compartment late last month. An 88-year-old man's body was wrongly given to a 77-year-old man's family and cremated. The 77-year-old man's body had not been released to his family yesterday.

Hospital Authority chief executive Shane Solomon apologised to the families involved and said compensation would be offered. 'I'd like to express my personal sorrow for the families of the victims. And I apologise for this pain and discomfort that the families must be experiencing,' he said. 'We have realised the potential for such incidents for some time. What we have done this year is allocate HK$1.5 million to introduce a new electronic system for recognising bodies.'

The public hospitals manage 31 mortuaries providing about 1,500 compartments for bodies. Some compartments have to contain two bodies at once due to high demand. According to the authority, 17 mortuaries have been running at full or above capacity in the past two weeks.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, York Chow Yat-ngok said he was sorry for the mix-up, adding it was difficult to relieve congestion at mortuaries. He said the Hospital Authority had renewed mortuary facilities a few years ago, but the government would discuss whether more resources were needed.

He insisted there were no loopholes in body identification procedures. 'This recent incident was mainly due to human error,' he said in Beijing after meeting officials.

Prince of Wales Hospital chief executive Fung Hong blamed overcrowding of mortuaries on limited space and families leaving bodies at mortuaries for a long time, on average 16 days. He said it would take at least four more years for the hospital to expand its mortuary as part of its reconstruction and expansion plan.

The deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel, Fred Li Wah-ming, said putting two bodies in a compartment was disrespectful. He urged the government to provide more cremation facilities to shorten the time bodies stayed in mortuaries and proposed the panel discuss the problem on Monday.

Several organisations have launched protests against the hospital soon after the blunder was disclosed. Sha Tin district councillors today will inspect the hospital and its identification system.

Lee Kwok-wai, who collected his father's body from Prince of Wales Hospital yesterday, thought the identification procedures were sufficient.

'The mortuary staff checked my identity card and my father's. Then I was asked to sign a form and check the corpse by myself before I was allowed to take it out,' Mr Lee said. 'I think there's little chance of mistakes if people follow the procedure.'

But at the same time, he suggested the hospital should avoid situations where two corpses were placed in the same compartment. 'You are not showing enough respect to the deceased by doing that,' he said.


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