Alarm on private emergency care

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2008, 12:00am

Senior doctors have called for urgent action to improve private hospitals' handling of emergencies after a mother bled to death at the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital four hours after giving birth.

One said finding a doctor in an emergency was a lottery.

Staff called the woman's attending doctor, but he was not immediately available. He arrived 40 minutes later. In the meantime, a second doctor was called to help; however, no emergency operation was carried out.

The death occurred on January 10, but the circumstances have only recently come to light.

The case was reported to the Department of Health. It was one of two maternal deaths at private hospitals in three months. A woman who gave birth at Canossa Hospital on February 26 suffered from severe bleeding and died on March 2.

The department cleared Adventist Hospital of wrongdoing. But senior doctors say steps need taking to uphold standards at private hospitals.

'The standard used by the department is incredibly low. There is obviously a mismatch with what we expect from any modern hospital,' one doctor said.

Medical sources said the woman gave birth to the baby, her first, at about 4.30pm. About an hour later, she began to bleed. Nurses called the attending doctor at 5.45pm, then sought help from another obstetrician at the hospital in Stubbs Road, Happy Valley.

The mother was moved to an operating theatre just after 6pm. The attending doctor arrived at about 6.30pm and operated to try to stop the bleeding. She was certified dead shortly after 9pm.

The two doctors involved would not comment.

A spokeswoman for Adventist Hospital said it had an 'efficient on-call system' for maternity services.

In emergencies, nurses would get help from obstetricians practising at the hospital's outpatient clinic, she said.

Alan Lau Kwok-lam, president of the Private Hospitals Association, said effective on-call lists had been in place at all private hospitals for years.

But several senior doctors said few of their colleagues knew of any private hospitals with good emergency arrangements and it was sometimes difficult to find anaesthetists for urgent operations.

'When emergencies happen, nurses have to call one by one to see who is available; getting someone to help is a matter of luck, like a lottery. Many doctors are reluctant to answer emergency calls for fear they could get themselves into trouble,' one doctor said. 'If there was a pre-arranged roster a doctor would have a duty to answer such calls.'

An Adventist Hospital spokesman said: 'We have expressed our sincere sympathy to the family.'