Burns unit hopes for equipment updates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2007, 12:00am

People still remember the Pat Sin Leng hill fire on February 10, 1996, when two teachers lost their lives while trying to save students. Three students also died in the tragedy and 13 suffered burns, leaving some in critical condition.

The tragedy occurred when four teachers and 40 students from Hong Kong Chinese Women's Club Fung Yiu King Memorial Secondary School embarked on a school hike in the hills of Sha Tin.

Many people were concerned about the tragedy, which revealed that the Prince of Wales Hospital's burns unit did not have sufficient resources to cope with the victims.

'It happened in a scale of disaster,' recalled Li Mi-mai, a nursing officer of the burns unit in 1996 and now a ward manager at the hospital.

'We spent time borrowing equipment from other departments ... if we had enough equipment in the ward, the doctors could have gained useful information about the victims immediately,' she said.

That year, Operation Santa Claus brought in HK$4.2 million for the unit - more than HK$1 million above the target of HK$3 million - enabling it to buy 86 items, including low-air mattresses and electric beds, which offer great pain relief to patients.

Wendy So Yuen-sham and Reddy Chan Wai-hung had left the hospital by the time the new equipment arrived, but they could feel the change in attitude when they went back for post-burn treatment.

Ms Chan thought the accident 'woke up' the public as Sars did in 2003. 'You know these stories make people aware of the needy when the amount of funds raised in different charities keeps making a record,' she said. 'It's a blessing in disguise for Hong Kong.'

Former home affairs chief Shelley Lee Lai-kuen joined the survivors in giving thanks to the many generous people who made donations to OSC, including legislators, medical staff and artist Andy Lau.

Eleven years on, victims of the hill fire are getting on with their lives, but some of the equipment in the hospital's burns unit is becoming outdated as manufacturers are providing maintenance and spare parts only for newer models.

Andrew Burd, chief of the division of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, revealed the unit was still underfunded.

'When a disaster happens, there's a tremendous human emotional sort of response from the reaction ... so the money comes in. It would be lovely if we could have constant funding that didn't rely on human pain and suffering,' he said.