Hospital blunders increase by a third

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2012, 12:00am


Serious medical blunders in public hospitals increased by a third last year, lawmakers were told yesterday.

Experts and patients' groups blamed staff shortages and poor management, which they say are eroding morale.

The Hospital Authority received 44 reports of incidents involving death or serious physical or psychological injury from October 2010 to September last year.

That is a sharp increase from 33 during the previous year, according to a report discussed by the Legislative Council's health services panel.

Nine categories of incident were identified. The highest figure was for in-patient suicides, with 20 cases reported. There were 18 reports of objects being left in patients' bodies after surgery and three of surgery being performed on the wrong patient or wrong body part.

Dr Kwok Ka-ki, convenor of the concern group Caring Hong Kong and a former medical sector legislator, said the increase in blunders was understandable and within expectations, but was not acceptable.

'The poor management culture in the organisation has been a long-term problem,' he said.

'The staff have little work satisfaction and morale is low. This directly affects the quality of service.'

The authority's director of quality and safety, Dr Liu Hing-wing, told the panel that most of the recorded events were the result of systematic or procedural lapses rather than failings involving human error.

Although there were more reports of objects being left inside patients after operations, Liu said they were not as serious as cases in previous years. 'Before, there were cases like leaving a whole pair of forceps behind. Now it will usually be small bits chipped off from tools,' he said.

The mistakes were compounded by staff shortages, lawmakers heard.

The authority's director of hospital groups, Dr Cheung Wai-lun, said staffing would remain a problem over the next three years. He estimated there would be a net increase of 50 to 60 doctors each year, but there were about 200 vacancies at present.

Relief measures include the recruitment of retired and part-time doctors from the private sector and hiring from overseas, he said.

Cheung Tak-hai, vice-chairman of the Alliance for Patients' Mutual Help Organisations, said many patients worried about the quality of service and mistakes at public hospitals, but they had no choice because private hospitals were too expensive.

Lawmakers repeated an earlier recommendation for the appointment of an independent medical ombudsman. But health officials said the present system for complaints and their investigation was adequate.

The meeting was called after several serious incidents at Tuen Mun Hospital in recent months. In one, a jogger, 69, died after three specialists missed signs of internal bleeding.

He hit his head when he collapsed from a heart attack and was prescribed blood thinner, which worsened the bleeding in his brain.

But Cheung denied the problem was especially serious in Tuen Mun, saying cases were evenly spread out.