Caritas death inquiry blames confused calls

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 December, 2008, 12:00am

A series of miscommunications contributed to the delay in reaching a man who collapsed with a heart attack outside Caritas Medical Centre and later died, according to the hospital's investigation.

The probe into the December 20 incident - which drew a public outcry and prompted public apologies from Hospital Authority chiefs - does not blame any individual member of staff. The hospital is due to present a final report to the Hospital Authority tomorrow.

Sources close to the hospital's chief executive, Ma Hok-cheung, said he had prepared for any action the authority may take and had said 'his personal reputation does not matter'.

The investigation found that nurses at the accident and emergency department sent a security guard to find the 56-year-old man - who had collapsed outside a hospital building - but did not tell a doctor. The man's son, a Mr Yeung, had run to the receptionist for help at 2.43pm, but she told him to dial 999 for an ambulance. The patient was taken to the emergency room 26 minutes after arriving at the hospital but was later certified dead.

Dr Ma initially said she had rightly complied with hospital guidelines and he had refused to apologise.

During the investigation, the receptionist denied that she had said 'none of my business' to the man's son when he asked for help. She said she told him she was not a medical worker and advised him to dial 999. She called the hospital's ambulance control centre at 2.47pm to check why an ambulance had not arrived.

A surgeon at the hospital, surnamed Wei, was passing and tried to resuscitate the man. Dr Wei called the hospital operator at 2.45pm and was transferred to the accident and emergency department.

A nurse at the department's registration counter consulted two senior nurses, who decided to send a security guard to the site at 2.51pm.

Dr Wei's call was described as unclear and the nurses thought the incident had happened in the building's lobby. When the security guard reached the lobby at about 2.55pm, he did not find anyone. Then he saw a man lying outside the block being tended to by firemen.

A source close to the investigation said: 'The young receptionist is not as insensitive as some people said. She did manage to check with the ambulance control point.'

Other sources close to the investigation said that ambulance services had also encountered communication problems. They said the 999 control centre received the first call at 2.45pm and sent an ambulance, a fire truck and a motorcycle. But the address given by the caller was wrong. It received a second call a minute later with the right address. But the second fleet got stuck in traffic.

The 999 centre later called back an ambulance that had just left Caritas hospital to return to help the man. It finally arrived at 3pm and reached the accident and emergency department at 3.09pm. The man was certified dead at 3.26pm.