Human error hard to avoid, says Hospital Authority boss

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2009, 12:00am

Human error cannot be avoided in an organisation as large as the Hospital Authority, but it will still take steps to improve operations in the face of recent drug-related blunders, the authority's chief has said.

'The Hospital Authority gives out millions of pills each year and there is always human error,' its chief executive, Shane Solomon, said. 'The most important thing is that patients' health is not affected.'

He said the authority was a large institution and so small incidents would attract attention. 'After a number of incidents relating to drugs, the media and the public become interested in all drug incidents.'

Some pharmacists have complained that frequent changes to drug procurement regulations made it easy for dispensary staff to mix up drugs. Mr Solomon said the problem was not unique to the authority.

'A lot of drugs look the same, and it is an international problem,' he said. 'The dispensaries are under a lot of pressure ... we are asking them to be more careful.'

In the latest of the recent series of drug blunders, it was discovered on Friday that diabetes patients had been given drugs used to treat hypertension at the Lady Trench General Outpatient Clinic in Tsuen Wan. Mr Solomon said the clinic would look into the matter and punishments would be considered if negligence was involved. He said the authority was considering automating the system to reduce human error.

Regarding other recent cases in which doctors lost USB drives containing patients' data, Mr Solomon said protecting patients' data should be the authority's highest priority.

He said board members would meet this week to discuss ways to keep patients' data safe. A series of measures might be introduced to prevent further data leaks.

In the past two months, two doctors at United Christian Hospital have lost USB flash drives, containing the data of 55 patients. Mr Solomon said warning letters had been given to the staff members concerned.

Patients' Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong said while it was true public hospitals dealt with millions of prescriptions each year, the problem was the authority had not addressed the carelessness at the root of blunders.

Incidents at Lady Trench clinic and the Yau Ma Tei Jockey Club Clinic, where patients were given expired cough medicine, showed frontline workers had not been cautious enough, he said. 'Even though there are guidelines, some frontline workers are not following them. The authority had not solved this problem.'