Hospital system in need of overhaul

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am


A series of medical incidents at Tuen Mun Hospital has prompted yet another review of our health care system. This time the Hospital Authority is to focus on clinical governance across all hospitals after three specialists failed to spot signs of internal bleeding from a brain scan and prescribed the wrong medicine to an elderly man. The death of the 69-year-old, the seventh blunder in the same hospital since May, has raised concerns there are systemic flaws.

Medical treatment can never be risk free, nor would it be realistic to expect that human error can be completely eradicated. While every effort must be made to ensure patients are provided with the best care and treatment, mistakes will happen from time to time. That said, there is cause for concern when medical blunders appear to become a regular occurrence in a particular hospital.

It would be easy to blame the mistakes on the heavy workload of hospital staff. The burden placed on Hong Kong's doctors and nurses has long been recognised as a problem. But the authority has rejected any suggestion this was the cause. Health minister Dr York Chow Yat-ngok is right when he said the latest incident goes beyond a question of professional judgment by the three doctors concerned. The outcome could have been different had nursing staff been more aware of the patient's response to the administration of the wrong drug.

A review has almost become a knee-jerk government reaction whenever a problem is snowballing. Nonetheless, a review of clinical governance across all public hospitals is a sensible step to take. Repetition of mistakes in routine health care procedures prompted reviews leading to special patrol teams being dispatched to hospital wards to monitor safety compliance a few years ago. Accreditation for hospitals has also been introduced to assure standards and to minimise risks. Hopefully this is not another knee-jerk response. To avoid similar tragedies from happening again, nothing short of a complete overhaul is required.