Action plan drawn up if blunder doctor charged

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2007, 12:00am

The Hospital Authority is making preparations in the event that a Prince of Wales Hospital doctor who was involved in a fatal medical blunder is charged with manslaughter.

A police spokesman said they were investigating the incident with a view to presenting evidence at a forthcoming inquest. 'At this stage, there is insufficient evidence to substantiate any criminal offence. Inquiries are continuing.'

However, the Hospital Authority said it had to prepare for any legal eventuality, and there had been cases overseas where doctors had been charged with manslaughter, on grounds of gross negligence, in similar circumstances.

A 21-year-old female leukaemia patient died on July 7 after the chemotherapy drug vincristine was mistakenly injected into her spine, instead of a vein, at Prince of Wales Hospital on June 15.

The authority has presented medical records to police for the inquest on the victim.

No Hong Kong public doctor has been charged with manslaughter over a medical incident.

The authority has been studying overseas cases, in which at least two doctors - one in Britain and another in France - were jailed for manslaughter after making a similar mistake.

In 2003, a doctor in Britain was jailed for eight months after ordering his junior to wrongly inject vincristine into the spine of an 18-year-old boy at a medical centre in Nottingham. A doctor in France was jailed for three months last year for manslaughter for injecting another chemotherapy drug, vindesine, into a 25-year-old woman's spine.

The Hong Kong blunder prompted the World Health Organisation to issue a global drug alert in July and warn that 55 cases had been reported worldwide since 1968.

A senior Hospital Authority source told the South China Morning Post the organisation was seeking legal advice on compensation for the woman's family. But the authority is also worried over whether the Prince of Wales Hospital doctor could face a criminal charge.

The female doctor has been suspended from clinical duties and could face disciplinary action from the authority.

'We have been preparing ourselves for any legal consequence. Apart from compensation, we have also studied several overseas cases where doctors were charged or jailed for manslaughter,' the source said.

Medical Association president Choi Kin said prosecuting doctors over medical blunders was a global trend. Sooner or later it would come to Hong Kong, as patients were more concerned about their rights. 'It is not a matter of whether doctors like it or not; it is a legal matter,' he said.

Private gynaecologist Harry Sim Hok-gwan was the first Hong Kong doctor convicted of manslaughter, in 2003. He was jailed for two years for killing a woman while performing an illegal abortion.