Anger at delay in treating boy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am

The health minister has voiced his concern after a hospital made a seven-year-old boy with a serious eye injury wait for an hour before treating him because he wasn't carrying any identification

Staff at Caritas Medical Centre told his grandmother that unless she could produce the document she would have to pay HK$700 as a non-local patient, which could be refunded later. As she did not have enough money, the boy had to wait while his father fetched his birth certificate.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok demanded an explanation yesterday.

'The most important principle is, for anyone whose life or safety is in danger, our public medical system must take care of them first, regardless of whether they have money or not,' he said.

According to Caritas Medical Centre, the boy, surnamed Chan, arrived at Princess Margaret Hospital's emergency room at 12.37pm last Thursday with an injury to his left eye caused by a badminton racquet.

After a preliminary check, he was referred to nearby Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, which has an ophthalmology unit.

A Chinese-language newspaper that interviewed the family said Chan's father was forced to drive to the family's home in Tsing Yi from Tuen Mun, pick up the identification and then deliver it to Caritas.

The hospital said the boy was treated at 3.14pm that day. The doctor found abrasions on his cornea but there was no danger of the boy losing his sight. The chairman of the Alliance for Patients' Mutual Help Organisation, Cheung Tak-hei, said that was not the point.

'You don't know if the child might lose his sight or not before you run the check on him,' he said. 'Caritas should have never treated the boy's case as a normal consultation session with a specialist. He was transferred from Princess Margaret Hospital's emergency unit on the same day. It was supposed to be an urgent case.'

Caritas said it understood the family's dissatisfaction at the registration procedures and promised to review its policy.

The boy was supposed to return to Caritas for treatment the next day, but he did not turn up. The hospital said it had contacted the family and would follow up on the boy's case.

This is the second controversial incident involving Caritas Medical Centre in less than a year. In December a 56-year-old man collapsed outside the hospital, but a receptionist told his son to dial 999 for an ambulance, which arrived 26 minutes later. The man was then pronounced dead.

The hospital's emergency room chief was later penalised with a pay and promotion freeze.