Hong Kong leukaemia patient would not have died if he had received timely treatment, coroner hears

Expert witness blames string of ‘illogical’ arrangements that left patient deprived of treatment for several hours in Princess Margaret Hospital

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 8:03am

A leukaemia patient would not have died of a brain haemorrhage if there had not been a string of “illogical” arrangements that left him deprived of treatment for several hours in a public hospital, a haematologist told the Coroner’s Court on Monday.

Testifying at the inquest of Lin Sui-man, expert witness Professor Kwong Yok-lam criticised Princess Margaret Hospital, saying it lacked vigilance over cases involving patients with low blood platelets whomight be suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, as well as an effective system to identify and prioritise them.

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The University of Hong Kong professor also hit out at the attitude of some medical staff, who he said were out to protect their own turf. The haematology and oncology specialist called this “absurd”.

Kwong was summoned by the Coroner’s Court on Monday to give his views on Lin’s death.

The electrician, an acute leukaemia patient, suffered from a brain haemorrhage as a result of a low- blood-platelet level following chemotherapy in 2014.

Lin was admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung early on May 9 that year after he said he had a headache. But he was not given any treatment, including a blood test, for five hours.

He fell into a coma that morning and died three days later.

“A lot of things could have been done, yet nothing was done,” Kwong said.

He said it was illogical for hospital staff not to be aware of Lin’s low-blood-platelet level given his past medical record.

He also questioned their decision to turn to “more serious patients” instead, even though the death rate for Lin’s condition was almost 100 per cent. That for a stroke patient was about 60 per cent, he said.

The doctor said Lin’s condition could have been diagnosed through a blood test completed within a minute and improved through a blood transfusion.

An operation could also have been conducted to extract blood surrounding his brain or to remove part of his skull to avoid nerve blockage, he said.

But surgical options became impossible by the time medical attention was given to Lin, as they generally would not be performed on patients in a coma, Kwong said.

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He recommended a more effective system to help the hospital identify those suffering from blood- platelet issues. Training on the issue, he added, should be given to staff, as well as on their ability to prioritise cases based on urgency.

Kwong said the hospital should boost its staff’s team spirit. He cited his personal experience, saying that medical professionals sometimes could not be bothered doing others’ jobs even though it took them little time.

“He or she is not just a patient of, say, doctor A, but everybody’s patient,” he said.

Lin’s wife, Huang Huizhan, gave a tearful final submission to coroner Ada Yim Shun-yee and a five-member jury.

“If everyone at the hospital gave him a little bit more time, he would not have left us,” she gasped, referring to herself and her three children.

The coroner will direct the jury on Tuesday.