Police slam Hospital Authority for not informing them that suspect arrested in sexual assault case was HIV carrier

Letter from all four staff associations calls for notification system and guidelines, but Aids support group claims worries are unnecessary

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 10:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 6:42pm

All four of the city’s police staff associations have urged the Hospital Authority to strike a balance between concern for patient privacy and protection of the public against contagious diseases after officers handled a suspect from a public hospital without knowing that he was an HIV carrier.

The incident involved the recent arrests of four mentally disabled male patients, aged 38 to 56, from Kowloon Hospital after they sexually assaulted a mentally disabled boy, 17, staying in the same ward on several occasions between December and earlier this month.

Officers later learned that one of the four suspects was an HIV carrier. They were upset that they had not been informed about the suspect’s condition so that they could take precautions against infection.

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In a letter to Hospital Authority chairman Professor John Leong Chi-yan on Tuesday, the Police Force Council Staff Associations, which comprise the Superintendents’ Association, the Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association, the Overseas Inspectors’ Association and the Junior Police Officers’ Association, said the authority had not informed them in any way during their investigation of the suspect that he was a carrier of a highly fatal virus.

“The HA’s responsibility is undeniable in case anyone is infected with the highly fatal virus as a result of its negligence. The public at large will also consider it unacceptable.” the letter stated.

The associations said they understood the authority had the obligation to safeguard the patient’s privacy, but it was also its duty to protect the lives and health of the public, including public officers.

They said the government should put in place policies and procedures to protect public officers, who were bound by duty to come into contact with people who might carry highly fatal viruses.

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The associations urged the authority to work with police to establish a notification mechanism and guidelines for handling patients with highly infectious diseases to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents.

Police management also wrote to the authority on Monday to express concern over the incident and to suggest a discussion on the setting up of a notification mechanism.

Junior Police Officers’ Association chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong expressed disappointment at the way the authority had handled the case, referring to its refusal to confirm whether the suspect was an HIV carrier.

He said that colleagues and the management had started to discuss guidelines for such cases.

Marco Wong Ka-chung of community group Aids Concern said the worries from the police associations reflected a general misunderstanding of HIV.

Police officers are very unlikely to get infected during their investigation
Marco Wong, Aids Concern

“The worries were unnecessary,” Wong said. “Police officers are very unlikely to get infected during their investigation.”

He said HIV could not be transmitted by day-to-day contact such as shaking hands, hugging or sharing toilet seats.

He did not endorse proposals to set up a notification mechanism and guidelines, as the disease now is not a mandatory notifiable infectious disease.

“We totally understand that the association wants to protect the frontline police officers,” he said, adding that his group was willing to offer workshops to police to learn more about the disease.

A Hospital Authority spokesman said it was aware of the concerns and would consider the associations’ proposals with a view to balancing patients’ privacy and the risk of infectious diseases.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung