Family of Hongkonger who died years ago from liver failure seek judicial review

Surviving sister and mother call Medical Council decision this year clearing doctor of wrongdoing in 2009 case a ‘shame’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 May, 2017, 11:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 4:48pm

The family of a Hongkonger who died after a possible blunder similar to that of high-profile liver transplant patient Tang Kwai-sze accused the Medical Council’s decision of “shame” in clearing the doctor in their case of professional misconduct.

Both the elder sister and mother of Choi Man-chiu – a patient who died after suffering from acute liver failure in 2009 – came forward hoping to launch a judicial review against the council’s ruling in January this year when a Queen Elizabeth Hospital nephrologist was found not guilty.

Choi’s family complained the doctor failed to prescribe antiviral medication when treating Choi, a hepatitis B carrier, for kidney disease with steroids. They were also dissatisfied the nephrologist did not warn that hepatitis B could flare up with the use of steroids and other drugs suppressing the immune system.

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“I felt very shocked and disappointed when learning about Tang’s case,” Choi’s elder sister Maria Choi said tearfully. “My younger brother has been gone for eight years, but similar incidents are still happening.”

While the council found the doctor in Choi’s case not guilty of professional misconduct, his surviving family members questioned whether the code of professional conduct had been violated in the absence of an explanation about the risk of prescribing steroids.

My younger brother has been gone for eight years, but similar incidents are still happening
Maria Choi

They also questioned whether expert witnesses testifying during the inquiry gave complete facts, as one expert said medical literature on giving antiviral drugs to patients focused on those who received organ transplants and chemotherapy.

But patients’ rights advocate Tim Pang Hung-cheong of the Society for Community Organisation said medical literature warning doctors about the risk of activating hepatitis B when treating with steroids came as early in 1990. He said a similar guideline was released in 2006 in Singapore.

Maria Choi called the council’s decision clearing the nephrologist of wrongdoing “a shame” and claimed her entire family had been traumatised by the experience.

The family tried to apply for legal aid to seek judicial review of the council’s decision, but they could not pass a means test after receiving compensation from the Hospital Authority.

“The authority has not admitted any legal liability nor apologised to us,” she said.

Pang hoped the Legal Aid Department would have discretion to help in the family’s judicial review efforts on humanitarian grounds.

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A Queen Elizabeth Hospital spokesman said no further information could be provided now in light of the family’s possible legal action. He noted the hospital could provide necessary assistance to the family if needed.

An authority spokesman said guidelines on antiviral drug use for hepatitis B carriers who are on other drugs suppressing the immune system would be fully implemented once passed by the authority.

The Medical Council did not yet reply to the Post’s enquiry.

Meanwhile, Tang Kwai-sze was still fighting for her life at Queen Mary Hospital, remaining in a critical condition, according to the hospital’s liver transplant centre director Professor Lo Chung-mau. He said the biggest concern was whether Tang’s lungs could recover.