Doctor only one punished in hospital death inquiry

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am

A Prince of Wales Hospital doctor who mistakenly injected a drug into a cancer patient's spine will be denied a pay rise and promotion for three years.

But no other staff will be disciplined for this mistake, in which a 21-year-old woman died.

Frontline doctors said last night it was unfair that no senior management had to share the blame, while patients' groups found the punishment too lenient.

A Hospital Authority spokesman said a panel investigating the incident on June 15 had recommended the doctor be given a written warning and barred from a pay rise or promotion for three years from November 1.

'No disciplinary action was taken against other staff. The hospital management will continue to improve the system to minimise human error,' the spokesman said.

The doctor joined Prince of Wales Hospital's oncology department in 2004 and had been receiving medical oncology training. She was told of the decision yesterday.

Sources said she was 'depressed' about the fatal incident.

It was not known whether the doctor, who has been suspended since the blunder, can resume her clinical duties.

The recovering leukaemia patient was injected with the chemotherapy drug vincristine into her spine, instead of a vein, and died on July 7. A coroner's inquest is pending.

Frontline Doctors' Association chairman Ernie Lo Chi-fung said last night it was worrying that the authority had punished only the doctor.

'After this case, many doctors worry that they have to take all the blame in case of medical incidents,' he said. 'In this case, the mistake was partly caused by system faults such as long working hours and procedures.'

Dr Lo said the association planned to hold seminars to address doctors' concern about their liability.

Patient Rights' Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong said the punishment was too lenient.

'The authority should make public the factors it has considered before it came up with this decision,' he said. 'It is a lenient punishment. We hope the Medical Council will take action to look at the doctor's professional liability.'

In August, a three-member panel probing the incident found that human error, gaps in specialist training and flaws in the system contributed to the fatality. The panel found that the resident doctor and an enrolled nurse failed to check the method for administering the vincristine.

The authority is also studying to what extent medical staff, their supervisors and the system should be held responsible for errors.