Relief at authority's admission of flaws

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 March, 2010, 12:00am

The Hospital Authority has admitted there were flaws in the process under which two senior doctors were punished for Caritas Medical Centre's failure to assist an elderly heart attack victim who collapsed at its front door.

One of the doctors, Ng Fu, head of the accident and emergency department, said yesterday he was relieved at the authority's admission.

Ng, who spoke yesterday for the first time since the December 2008 incident, filed a judicial review in May last year against the authority's decision to bar him from promotion for 14 months and freeze his pay.

'I [filed the judicial review] because I found the process unfair,' he said yesterday. 'Frontline staff are not against any punishment, but as a big public body, the Hospital Authority should have a fair, open and consistent disciplinary system. I am now relieved that the case is settled.'

The authority's chief executive, Shane Solomon, admitted the process to discipline Ng and the hospital's chief executive, Dr Ma Hok-cheung, who received the same punishment, was 'flawed' because the two doctors were not given an adequate chance to defend themselves.

The authority and Ng have decided not to pursue the matter further.

In December 2008, a man drove his father, who was having a heart attack, to the entrance of the Cheung Sha Wan hospital and went inside to seek help. A hospital receptionist told the man to dial 999 for an ambulance. An ambulance arrived 26 minutes later and took the father to the accident and emergency department, where he was pronounced dead.

The hospital was fiercely criticised as bureaucratic and indifferent to those seeking urgent help. After an investigation, the authority disciplined the two doctors and asked them to introduce improvements.

Ng's judicial review was backed by at least 30 doctors - including the chiefs of almost all the city's accident and emergency departments, and some consultants. The doctors wrote to Solomon last year to express their opposition to Ng's punishment.

Solomon said Ng and Ma had not been given adequate opportunities to respond to complaints against them.

'Because of these flaws, the outcomes, the disciplinary action, are brought into question,' he said. 'The authority is now considering what is the next step to take, including a reinvestigation. My inclination is to accept the original objectives have been met and not to pursue the matter further. The original objectives are to improve the quality of the Caritas Medical Centre's accident and emergency department. These improvements have been done, including retraining of staff and preparation for people collapsed in the hospital.'

Ma could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The authority said earlier that Ng's mistake was that he accepted guidelines requiring staff to dial 999 when emergencies occurred in non-clinical areas of the hospital but which had no clear requirement that the accident and emergency department should be notified.

Ng said yesterday he would not take further action, such as a claim for damage to his reputation. He said his department had not sent a team to help the man because frontline staff were not sure about the situation and the department was short of staff.

'We feel sorry about this incident ... We will try our best to work to public expectation. We accept the public criticisms and we feel the obligation to do our best,' he said.

Since the incident, the department has introduced measures to improve capacity to respond to emergencies, including a hotline for hospital staff to seek assistance.

The hotline has since responded to 14 incidents, including a case where a patient fainted in the physiotherapy department.

'Once we get the call, we will send a team of staff out to help. We cannot open the hotline to the public because it will overlap with the function of the 999 emergency calls,' Ng said.

Public Doctors' Association president Ho Pak-leung welcomed the authority's admission that it had made a mistake.


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