Manila siege survivor Yik Siu-ling's 'suffering' leads to demand for inquiry

Patient whose jaw was shattered was caused 'unnecessary suffering' by delay to operation due to media concerns, says Professor Andrew Burd

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:11am

A former surgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital who operated on Manila bus hostage crisis survivor Yik Siu-ling has called for a public inquiry into her treatment.

He is demanding an investigation into claims that media management was given priority over her medical needs in the early days of her treatment, leading to "unnecessary suffering" for the mother-of-one.

The call comes just days after Yik had a successful operation in Taiwan to reconstruct her jaw, which was shattered during the siege in August, 2010.

Yik, 37, has previously said she was disappointed by the medical treatment in Hong Kong - which involved 33 operations - forcing her to go overseas.

Professor Andrew Burd, 61, who retired as head of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Prince of Wales in August, claims top-level hospital administrators put concerns about the media and public relations ahead of Yik's treatment.

The Hospital Authority yesterday labelled the allegations as "unsubstantiated" in response to questions from the Sunday Morning Post. It declined to answer questions about the claims of interference in Yik's medical treatment or calls for an inquiry.

Burd's claims come amid a long and bitter fallout between himself and several former colleagues, including the hospital's current head of plastic surgery, Dr David Wong Sau-yan, and Professor Paul Lai Bo-san, chairman of the Department of Surgery at Chinese University and honorary chief of service and consultant surgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

Wong said Burd's allegations stemmed from disappointment that his contract was not extended past his retirement age earlier this year. "It was Burd's own decision to delay the surgery. He's just making excuses," Wong said. Into the acrimonious mix of claim and counter-claim is an allegation that Burd assaulted Wong at the hospital in June last year - an allegation Burd strenuously denies and which is still the subject of an internal probe.

Wong's abilities as a plastic surgeon have also been questioned by Burd. The Hospital Authority refused to comment on both issues.

After Yik arrived in Hong Kong from Manila, Burd said he wanted to operate on her on September 8, 2010, but was denied.

The operation took place five days later which, Burd claims, led to "unnecessary suffering" for Yik. He said the delay meant his plan to correct mistakes - such as the failure to detect the extent of soft tissue loss - made during the first operation by Wong on August 27, 2010, was hampered.

"I felt there was political interference and it has never happened to me before and it must never happen again," Burd said.

In a series of e-mails dated September 4, 2010 - which have been seen by the Post - several hospital administrators, Lai included, expressed concern that because the media had been told Yik would not have any operations for at least two weeks after the first operation and when Wong returned from annual leave, a change in the plan could attract negative media coverage.

Lai wrote to Burd: "Therefore, with all the current sentiments among different sectors of the community, I think it is not wise to go ahead next Wednesday, even if you are telling us from a plastic surgeon's perspective, it is OK to go ahead. Because for this case, OK is not good enough."

In the same e-mail thread, Prince of Wales Hospital chief executive Dr Fung Hong added his views, saying: "It's important that we manage the expectation of the media as well".

Also, the hospital's head of communications, Stephanie Yeung Sau-ling wrote: "If [the September 8 operation] is to go ahead next Wednesday, I have worries that [the media] might feel 'misled'. May bring negative impact on trust side."

Lai described Burd's allegations of interference as "false" but declined to provide further e-mails that would prove that the second surgery requested by Burd was unnecessarily delayed.

A source close to Yik said yesterday she was not aware of Burd's claims about her medical treatment. The source said Yik had trusted the medical staff who handled her treatment in Hong Kong, but was confused after doctors in Taiwan told her about damage caused by previous operations in Hong Kong.

Yik will demand answers when she returns from Taiwan next month, the source said, adding that she has not ruled out possible legal action.

Of the 33 operations that Yik had in Hong Kong, about half were done by Burd. He said later operations by other surgeons to fit new teeth for Yik failed, leading to the removal of work he had done to re-build the jaw.

"My work was successful. It hadn't been smooth but we achieved our goal," Burd said yesterday. Burd has called for an open and independent investigation into Yik's case.

It would look at her treatment from when she arrived in Hong Kong early on Thursday, August 26, 2010, up to when she left for Taiwan earlier this month.

"I'm happy for my work to be reviewed and assessed and I hope that other doctors who have been involved in her treatment would have the same willingness to co-operate in such an inquiry," Burd said.

Wong, who said he was willing to take part in a public inquiry, said the first operation that he led was "just washing out the wound" and labelled suggestions that his work led to problems for Yik as "total nonsense".

Wong is president of the Hong Kong Society for Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons and chief plastic surgery examiner with the College of Surgeons.

Dr Wei Fu-chan, of Taipei's Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, led the 11-hour operation on Yik earlier this month and said the surgery was difficult due to severe damage and deformity caused by the gunshot wound and previous operations in Hong Kong.

A Hospital Authority spokeswoman said Yik's facial reconstructive surgeries were performed by a team led by Burd.

Her injuries were sustained after a sacked policeman took 22 Hongkongers and three Filipinos captive on a tour bus in Manila on August 23, 2010. He shot dead seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide before being killed in a bungled rescue.