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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hospital to investigate claims medical staff in Hong Kong failed to notice baby’s heart had stopped beating

Girl’s father claimed two monitors failed to produce readings but nurse believed there was just a malfunction and twice requested to swap machines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 1:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 10:31pm

An investigation has been launched into whether medical staff in Hong Kong were at fault after a one-year-old recovering from liver surgery lost her heartbeat.

Family members of the girl, who remains in a coma in Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, suspect human error and are demanding answers. The hospital said it had set up a cross-departmental panel to look into the incident and pledged to devise suitable treatment after assessing the girl’s condition.

Born on December 9 last year, Yu-yan was diagnosed with a congenital bile duct obstruction – a condition where bile could not be effectively discharged from her body.

A build-up of bile could lead to yellowing skin, and, in more severe cases, liver failure.

In February, Yu-yan successfully underwent surgery which removed the blocked bile ducts and replaced them with part of the intestine, allowing bile to drain from the liver and into the digestive system.

The surgery was given a 30 per cent chance of restoring normal bile flow, with the possibility a liver transplant would be needed at a later date.

Yu-yan’s condition deteriorated in October as high levels of bilirubin – an orange-yellow pigment produced during the breakdown of red blood cells and discharged in the form of bile – was again detected.

After being transferred to Queen Mary Hospital, doctors were given the family’s consent to perform a second round of surgery on December 8.

A hospital spokesman said the medical team reserved a bed at the paediatric intensive care unit, but claimed it was not needed after a successful operation, Yu-yan had regained consciousness with a steady pulse and blood pressure reading, he said.

But Yu-yan’s father questioned the hospital’s account, saying he insisted his daughter be sent to the intensive care unit.

This is normal procedure. If nurses and doctors find something wrong, they will attend to the patient first
Luk Che-chung, Hospital Authority regional chief executive

The infant was transferred to the general paediatric ward and encountered breathing difficulties about 45 minutes later.

Her father said neither the oxygen nor blood pressure monitors produced readings, but instead of checking on his daughter’s heartbeat, the nurse believed there was a malfunction and twice requested to swap the machines. The medical team began resuscitation efforts six minutes later.

Luk Che-chung, chief executive of the Hospital Authority’s Hong Kong West Cluster, which manages Queen Mary Hospital, refuted the claim on a radio show on Thursday morning.

Luk said the devices were only to assist medical staff and that a nurse and an intern doctor had checked on the infant immediately after the abnormal machine readings.

“This is normal procedure. If nurses and doctors find something wrong, they will attend to the patient first,” he said.

The infant went into a coma and has not regained consciousness. She remains in a serious condition at the intensive care unit.

The hospital said it has scheduled an MRI scan for next week, to determine Yu-yan’s brain condition and prognosis, and that it would remain in close contact with the family.

Luk said the scan would not be as effective if done immediately, but he would not give a time frame for the investigation.

A panel will study the communication between the medical team and the family, as well as the assessment, care and rescue procedures before reporting their findings.

“Our priority now is to provide the best care for Yu-yan,” Luk said, adding staff at the hospital staff were also “unhappy” about the incident.

More than 2,000 people have supported the family in a prayer group on Facebook.