Doctor attacks Hospital Authority's 'late' reaction to surge in superbug infections

Health Authority acted 'too late' to address spike in cases of drug-resistant infection, he says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 5:50am

A University of Hong Kong microbiologist has accused the Hospital Authority of downplaying an outbreak of a superbug infection earlier this year at public hospitals in central Kowloon.

Dr Ho Pak-leung said the surge in the number of vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) cases in March at the hospitals, mostly Queen Elizabeth Hospital, should have been reported at the time. It remained high in the two following months.

Figures showing more than 300 cases of the infection in central Kowloon's hospitals in March to May were released by the authority at a press conference at the end of July.

"The authority's reaction was too late. When there was a surge in one particular month, it should have taken action then," Ho said.

The four hospitals in the Kowloon Central Cluster had 102 to 132 cases of the superbug infection a month from March to May, a surge from 23 cases in February.

In those few months, other hospital clusters had only up to 25 cases a month. Some had none, according to the authority's figures. VRE is a bacteria that is resistant to vancomycin, a strong antibiotic.

The authority has issued a press release whenever a group of related VRE cases is found in a hospital and reported them to the Centre for Health Protection.

But Ho said that did not reflect the severity of the outbreaks.

He had heard from friends working at Queen Elizabeth Hospital that there were many VRE cases around March. Since then, as a member of the centre's expert group, he has sent three e-mails to the authority asking for the figures, but has not received a reply. In July, he wrote a letter to health minister Dr Ko Wing-man.

He finally received a full picture of the outbreak from news reports after the July 31 press conference.

Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk yesterday said: "The procedures are standard and there is no cover-up."