Teaching hospitals lie at the heart our public health system. They not only train our future doctors and dentists, but they provide affordable access to large, well-equipped institutions for people of limited means, including many elderly. An example is the Prince Philip Dental Hospital in Sai Ying Pun, run by the University of Hong Kong and home of the city's only dentistry school.
Unfortunately it has been in the news for reasons that do nothing for public confidence. As we reported this week, internal documents seen by the South China Morning Post show that between February and June the water supply for one of its five clinics was "heavily contaminated" with bacteria, and may have been used by patients for rinsing their mouths. One internal report said the clinic had been too busy to disinfect water lines to its dental units with a bleach solution as often as necessary. Thankfully, it now uses a more effective, Finnish-made solution after waiting a month for delivery.
Even though officials from the Food and Health Bureau and the Health Department sit on the hospital's board, and the department was informed of the ongoing risk, the patients were not alerted. A hospital spokeswoman said there was no need because the fact that none reported falling ill indicated they were safe. She did not explain how patients who fell ill were expected to link their sickness to a visit to the dentist.
The hospital is not supervised by the department or the Hospital Authority and the dentistry faculty's full-time teachers are exempt from the regulations or discipline of the Dental Council. Clearly it is time it was, and they were.
The independent hospital received HK$130 million from the government and handled more than 120,000 patients in the 2012-13 financial year. It is good that officials are appointed to its board to oversee the public interest. To make them more effective the government should heed calls to strengthen supervision and amend the law to make staff misconduct subject to proper disciplinary process.