GOVERNMENT health chiefs faced calls for an internal inquiry after it was revealed a wrongly labelled gas cylinder was used during an operation 11 days ago - despite a Department of Health denial.
Legislators accused Hospital Authority administrators of being 'economical with the truth' for withholding news that a patient had received mis-labelled gas.
United Christian Hospital chief executive Dr Tse Chun-yan said a surgical team had pumped gas from a wrongly labelled bottle into a patient's abdomen on January 22.
The patient was unharmed because the bottle - although labelled 'medical air' - contained the correct gas, carbon dioxide.
Dr Tse said he was not notified until January 25 and a letter to the supplier, Hong Kong Oxygen, was not faxed until last Friday.
'We found out while the cylinder was in use,' Dr Tse said. 'They told me it was in use for about 10 minutes.
'I agree there was some delay in the communication . . . the staff thought it was not that serious.' Hospital Authority deputy director Dr Ko Wing-man said he knew last Friday that one cylinder had been used, but the authority decided not to announce it.
Dr Ko said he had read a Department of Health statement on Wednesday night that the four cylinders reported to the Government had not been administered to patients, but waited until the following day to contact the Government.
'I can accept that we have not been explicitly mentioning that the bottle was used. You can criticise that; it's a matter of opinion,' he said yesterday.
'We are not covering up. We are emphasising different things. If the cylinder contained the wrong gas, it is important. If it contained the right gas, it seems to me to be less important.' The Hospital Authority had expected Hong Kong Oxygen to tell the Department of Health about the used bottle.
But Hong Kong Oxygen deputy managing director Mike Huggon said last night it was not the company's responsibility to pass on hospital information. Individual valves ensured correct gases were in the correct bottles, despite being wrongly labelled.
'Reassuring the public is as important, if not more important, than the details,' he said.
Legislators Dr Leong Che-hung and Emily Lau Wai-hing demanded an inquiry into the reporting delay and the failure to mention the used bottle.
'If one is charitable, it is a breakdown in communication. If it's sinister, they're trying to cover up something. I think they were a bit economical with the truth,' Ms Lau said.
Health department information chief Pauline Ling Po-lin agreed the press statement may have been misleading as it did not go into details.
United Christian Hospital has begun an inquiry into how the bottles slipped through administration and operating theatre checks, and why there was the four-day lapse before Hong Kong Oxygen was alerted.