HIV-positive doctor operated on patients till day before death

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 4:23am

An HIV-positive surgeon took part in medical operations up until the day before he was found dead outside his residential building in Wan Chai, an inquest heard yesterday.

The death of Wong Ho-hing, 34, on January 12 last year, prompted Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan, where he worked, to ask more than 100 of his patients to be tested for HIV.

"On January 11, 2012, he still took part in surgery," Dr Tang Chung-ngai, chief of service at the hospital's surgery department, told the Coroner's Court on the first day of an inquest into the death.

Senior forensic pathologist Lam Wai-kwok said the cause of death was multiple injuries, the court heard. Lam said he could not find any injury inconsistent with a fall from a height.

Wong was certified dead outside the luxury J Residence on Johnston Road. Police found his flat on the 39th floor unlocked.

Inside, officers found a report from a Thai hospital that showed test results, including an item labelled "HIV RNA", and a passport showing he visited Thailand from December 26 to 30, 2011. A pair of slippers and a wooden stool were on the balcony.

Hospital administrator Hans Li told the court that from 2010, when Wong received his surgery qualification, until his death, he had taken part in 707 surgical procedures.

Following Wong's death, the hospital sent letters to 143 patients who had undergone surgery by him and were therefore at a higher risk of infection, Li said.

Of the 131 who agreed to be tested, all returned negative results for HIV. The rest were either not contactable or refused to be tested. Six staff members were also tested and were not found to be infected.

The court heard that HIV was not statutorily notifiable - that is, infected patients do not have to report their condition to the Department of Health.

The court also heard that under the Medical Council's code of professional conduct, a doctor who had reason to suspect he might be a carrier of a serious infectious disease should "seek appropriate investigation and treatment".

If confirmed, the person must take the steps needed to prevent its spread.

A doctor does not have to disclose his infectious disease to patients, but must inform the health department if it is a notifiable disease.

The code says maintaining confidentiality is "essential in encouraging the doctor to receive proper counselling and management".

Tests conducted after Wong's death showed he had been HIV-positive.

Tang told the court that Wong's sister had told him of a report suggesting her brother carried the human immunodeficiency virus.

He said the hospital called a meeting involving several senior staff members and a legal consultant. They decided to refer the case to the health department's expert panel on HIV.

He said the move was not mandatory and they approached the department on their own initiative.

The inquest continues before Coroner Philip Wong Wai-kuen.