Medical errors are 'inevitable'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2007, 12:00am

Medical mistakes were inevitable because of the complexity of advanced medications and treatments, the Hospital Authority's director of quality and safety, Leung Pak-yin, said yesterday.

He was speaking a day after a report highlighted loopholes in procedures at Prince of Wales Hospital that contributed to a fatal blunder.

Dr Leung said the authority would bear full responsibility for the incident, in which a 21-year-old leukaemia patient died in June after the chemotherapy drug vincristine was mistakenly injected into her spine instead of a vein.

'The authority won't avoid responsibility. It is negotiating with the family on the compensation.

'After every medical incident, frontline staff feel the pressure. Hospitals are not 'zero-risk' places ... we have to deal with the incidents properly when they happen. We need to do our jobs well, check the procedures carefully and prevent similar things from happening again.'

Dr Leung pointed out that medical blunders occurred around the world, not just in Hong Kong.

'As advanced medications and treatments become more complicated, delays or medical incidents are sometimes inevitable. Our challenge is to minimise the risk of making mistakes. Mistakes sometimes occur, but I believe that frontline staff are all very dedicated to taking care of patients.'

A panel released an investigation report on Friday highlighting human error, gaps in specialist training and flaws in the system that led to the injection blunder.

The three-member panel made a number of recommendations, including better administration of drugs and more staff training.

Dr Leung said the authority would adopt most of the measures and may invite overseas experts to advise on the risks of different advanced drugs. The report would be sent to the World Health Organisation because it had a working group that studied the administration of vincristine worldwide, he added.

Patients' rights activist Tim Pang Hung-cheong said a body should be set up to monitor clinical safety in public and private hospitals.

Medical sector lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki accused the report and the authority of playing down the root causes of the blunder - lack of manpower and resources.

He said the hospital should look into the responsibility at management level and not just pinpoint the doctor involved.

An inquest into the death is pending. The doctor who made the mistake has been suspended from clinical duties and the authority will decide later on what disciplinary action to take.