Director of health dismisses criticism after drug blunder

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 September, 2009, 12:00am

The director of health yesterday dismissed criticism from private doctors over the use of Auxiliary Medical Service (AMS) workers to administer vaccines in a blunder-hit inoculation programme.

Dr Lam Ping-yan was speaking after the Medical Association said the auxiliary workers had not received comprehensive medical training, so it was risky to have them give the shots to infants and children.

About 360 members of the service - a 4,000-strong body of volunteers comprising doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dispensers, radiographers and paramedics - were working on Sunday when at least 50 children received paracetamol syrup in bottles labelled with the wrong dose for their age group.

Association president Dr Tse Hung-hing said that under the code of practice for doctors, it was inappropriate for medical practitioners to delegate part of their duties to unregistered or non-professional medical personnel.

Tse urged the government to allow private doctors to join the sponsored vaccination scheme.

But Lam - ex officio commissioner of the auxiliary body - said the Department of Health had provided adequate training to its members and had advised them on how to avoid predictable human errors.

'The AMS workers all serve in good faith, but we cannot 100 per cent avoid human errors. Human errors can happen to anyone, from doctors and nurses to pharmacists. We are concerned about the errors and are working on various improvement measures,' Lam said.

Auxiliary service management met yesterday to discuss the blunders, which deputy commissioner Dr Tse Tak-fu said were mainly caused by inadequate manpower.

'The errors occurred when the AMS members had to take care of both vaccination and drugs dispensing. After these incidents, there will be more workers to share the two jobs,' he said.

Under the scheme launched this month, the department provides free inoculation for children against Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections. About 200,000 children under two are eligible for up to four doses of the vaccine at the Department of Health's 31 maternal and child health centres.

On Sunday, 4,525 children were inoculated and given the syrup, a pain reliever of which children under one should take half a teaspoon and those older a teaspoon. But checks later found that more than 170 bottles had been distributed listing the wrong dosage.

By yesterday the department had reached the families of 1,357 children and found 50 who had been given syrup with the wrong labels.

Of these, four children aged below one year and 13 older children had actually taken the drug.

All were in good condition, and no parents had sought to swap the drugs at public clinics.

Some parents who took their children to the Lam Tin Polyclinic yesterday said the errors had shaken their confidence in the government medical services.

Kwok Ah-sze, 31, said she asked the nurses to double-check the vaccine before injecting her 19-month-old daughter.

'They looked a bit unhappy when I asked them to check, but I didn't want to see something bad happen to my baby,' she said.

Zheng Qiwei, a mother of a 10-month-old boy, said: 'I am really concerned, because I took my son there to be vaccinated many times.'

But she said she would not turn to private clinics because of the cost.