Private hospitals must be more open

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am


Twice recently, failure to report serious incidents in obstetrics departments has left private hospitals looking less than open and accountable, if not engaging in cover-ups. In the latest case to emerge, a Baptist Hospital doctor dropped a newborn baby on the floor while it was being delivered, resulting in bleeding from the head. When the case came to light nearly three weeks later, Baptist chief executive Raymond Chen Chung-i said the hospital did not think it serious enough to warrant a report to the Department of Health.

Happily, specialists cleared the baby of any serious injury and the hospital discharged it six days later without any apparent ill-effects. As many parents could attest, babies are hardier than we think. But the consequences could easily have been serious or tragic. And the parents must have been anxious. Contrary to the hospital's view, the health department described the accident as a 'serious case' that should have been reported. Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok has rightly called on all private hospitals to adhere to guidelines for public hospitals and report serious events within 24 hours.

There is no suggestion of a cover-up by the hospital, which said its actions were based on a requirement only to report deaths or serious injuries within seven days of birth. Hopefully, Chow's response will clarify the issue. After all, it is not that long since the Hospital Authority adopted an open incident-reporting regime requiring prompt disclosure of serious events and transparent action to remedy any defects in the system. This was in response to a number of hospital blunders that threatened to undermine public confidence. Ironically, it was followed by a rash of incident reports, attributed to greater transparency. Thankfully not many blunders have emerged since, so openness and a more proactive response may have reduced them. That is all the more reason for private hospitals to strive to comply with the guidelines.

The other recent incident that took time to come to light, an alleged assault by an obstetrician on a midwife at Matilda International Hospital, did not involve patients. But workplace violence is hardly in their best interests.

Such failures to notify the authorities suggest a tendency to deal with issues internally. Chow wants private hospitals to join a pilot accreditation scheme monitored by an external authority. This would be in their best interests. The city's growing reputation as a centre of medical excellence is attracting increasing numbers of non-resident patients to private hospitals - particularly mainland mothers-to-be. Along with the incident reporting system, uniform accreditation would help Hong Kong compete for medical tourism with places such as Singapore and Thailand.