Caritas officials punished over death of man at hospital door

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 February, 2009, 12:00am

Two senior managers at Caritas Medical Centre will have their pay frozen and will not be considered for promotion for at least 14 months as punishment for the hospital's inadequate response to the collapse and death of a man outside the hospital due to a heart attack.

Hospital Authority chief executive Shane Solomon revealed details yesterday of the investigation into the death of Yeung Tak-cheung, 56.

Speaking at the authority's headquarters in Kowloon City, he said the punishment for the hospital's chief executive, Ma Hok-cheung, and the head of the accident and emergency department, Ng Fu, was unprecedented and serious.

The pair now had to produce, within two months, a plan to improve hospital services that included detailed steps for responding to emergencies near the hospital and preparing staff for contact with the public, he said. After that, they had 12 months to implement the plan.

When Yeung had a heart attack on December 26, his son drove him to the entrance of the hospital and went inside to seek assistance, but a receptionist told him to call an ambulance. An ambulance eventually arrived and took Yeung to the accident and emergency department 26 minutes later, where he was pronouced dead.

The investigation said senior management had to take full responsibility for the response of frontline staff, and Mr Solomon denied the punishment was lenient.

'The punishment will have a material impact on them,' he said.

Asked why they were not sacked, he said firing was only required for misconduct or negligence. The pay and promotion freezes would be lifted only if the authority decided the plan to improve hospital services was satisfactory, he said. The pair had not considered resigning, he added.

The receptionist was not punished because the inquiry found she had not received proper training. Nurses in the accident and emergency unit would receive counselling.

'The [investigating] committee was convinced and believed what she was doing was according to the hospital procedure,' Mr Solomon said. 'It is the management's fault that she did not receive any training.'

Yeung's son, Fei-lung, said the investigation did not concern him.

'I do not have any expectation of it at all and I have not thought of what kind of punishment should be imposed,' he said. 'The most important thing now is how our family continue our lives.'

The family is suing the hospital for medical negligence and was awaiting approval of legal aid.

Legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip, who has been helping the family with the case, criticised the punishment. 'To many members of the public, the bans are not punishment at all, especially during the present financial tsunami. And we are talking about the loss of a life,' he said.

Health minister York Chow Yat-Ngok said it was vital that responsibility be taken for the mistake, but, more importantly, authority staff should learn from the mistake and establish a patient-oriented culture.

In a rare move, authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk visited Caritas and met workers before the announcement. 'Workers are facing huge pressure and I want to encourage them, hoping that they can stay united to do a better job,' he said.

Dr Ma said the hospital respected the report and would strive to implement the improvement measures.

'We apologise again for any unrest and concern caused by this incident,' he said.