Deaths a coincidence, says hospital

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am

Three fatal angioplasty operations a 'clustering effect and not medical blunders'

The doctor involved in three fatal coronary angioplasty operations late last month still conducts the procedure on patients, a source in the senior management of Queen Elizabeth Hospital said last night.

The hospital's management had reviewed details of all three cases and concluded they were a 'clustering effect' that could not be explained, the source said.

'It was a coincidence only. We don't think they were medical blunders. We still have great confidence in the doctor's competency. We don't see there's a need to suspend his duties,' the source said.

'All these three patients were in emergency condition. Their risk in receiving the operation was naturally higher.'

The source added that the doctor in question performed the largest number of the procedure - percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI - at the hospital. Each cardiologist at the hospital conducts about 200 to 300 every year.

The source stressed that the head of cardiology in the hospital held a weekly meeting to review all PCI cases with complications and death, including the three reported cases.

The manager denied there had been a brain drain in the cardiology department in recent years. He said no doctors had left the department for the private sector this year.

A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed yesterday that three patients aged 46 to 99 with acute myocardial infarction died in the hospital after PCI operations late last May.

'The cases have been referred to the Coroner for follow-up action. The hospital wishes to express its deepest condolences to the families of the deceased,' she said.

'The three reported cases were operated on under emergency and high-risk conditions. The procedures were done with the patients' and relatives' consent after thorough explanation, including its impact and potential risk. Relatives of the deceased were interviewed by our cardiologists and thorough explanations given.'

The cases would be reviewed by the hospital's monthly cardiology team meeting and the findings would be reported to the Hospital Authority.

Patients rights advocate Tim Pang Hung-cheong, of the Society for Community Organisation, said that although the three heart-surgery deaths might not be entirely the fault of an individual doctor, the hospital should temporarily stop the doctor from conducting surgery and carefully examine details of each case to see if safety measures are needed.

The hospital carries out 1,200 to 1,300 PCI operations every year, more than half of which are categorised as emergency and semi-urgent cases. The overall mortality rate of PCI procedure was 0.6 per cent according to the clinical audit last year.

Public Doctors' Association president Duncun Ho Hung-kwong, a cardiologist at the hospital, said he was not in the city in late May and refused to comment on particular cases.

But he said the overall morale of public doctors had been very low in recent years, which affected the quality of services and had become a crisis for the Hospital Authority.