Don't let hospital drama undermine our faith in system

Inquiry into cardiologist's ban must be swift and thorough to ensure public trust is not damaged

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 5:05am

What is the most valuable thing in life? Good health of course. So providing high-quality, professional public health services to citizens is what people legitimately expect from any government.

But how can we achieve this? It all rests on having a good team of medical staff who have their hearts in their job and a high standard of professional ethics.

Hong Kong has long enjoyed a reputation of having a high standard of public health care. But when Health Secretary Ko Wing-man returned from his summer break a week ago, he found himself facing a big challenge which, if not handled properly, could likely weaken the public's trust in our efficient system. It is a Hong Kong version of The Great White Tower saga.

The Great White Tower, a Japanese TV series based on novelist Yamazaki Toyoko's work of the same name, has been used as a reference to politics within the medical field. The novel tells of how a university hospital in Japan became embroiled in political infighting through its handling of medical blunders, but conscience and ethics eventually prevailed. The show rated well when it was aired in Hong Kong years ago.

What the public did not expect was to see was a real-life version of White Tower played out over the past two weeks. We do not know the ending yet as an investigation by an independent committee set up by the Hospital Authority under Ko's bureau is still under way.

It all started when it was revealed that Dr Yu Cheuk-man, a renowned cardiologist in Chinese University's medical school and also head of the cardiology unit at Prince of Wales Hospital, had been banned from conducting any heart procudures, due to perceived misconduct and complaints from patients and other doctors. Yu, who disagreed with the ban, fought back by holding press conferences, claiming that he was a victim of a political struggle.

The controversy grew in complexity when it reportedly involved the distribution of HK$100 million in donations said to have been mainly raised by Yu.

Chinese University vice-chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu was also dragged into the spotlight. Professor Sung, who introduced Yu into the public health service, denied the ban involved any administrative misconduct by the university.

While the public was understandably shocked by the revelations, the vital question is: Will this extraordinary saga cause the public to lose confidence in our well established health-care system?

The services provided by our public hospitals are, without doubt, the envy of many. Not only do they provide affordable treatment and care, they also boast elite and professional medical teams and world-class facilities and equipment.

In my very few experiences in public hospitals, I have been fortunate to encounter very caring medical staff, and I believe I'm not alone in feeling this way. A doctor once told me: "If you don't have a passion to cure and care for patients in need - many of whom have low income and are underprivileged - it is better not to work in public hospitals."

That is indeed true. Long hours and heavy workloads are nothing new in public hospitals, but we trust our medical staff's professionalism and ethics, and expect them to care for all patients.

No personal gain or loss should undermine that trust in our public health system. Therefore, it is vital there is an impartial and thorough investigation of Yu's case.