Plea for medical watchdog

THE Medical Council has been asked to set up an independent committee to scrutinise the use of innovative medical treatment in Hongkong following increasing concern about an operation performed at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

The president of the 300-strong Hongkong Cardiological Society, Dr Cheng Chun-ho, said he was very concerned about the results of the use of the outer covering of ox hearts as artificial valves for the human heart.

Last May, the surgical team from the teaching hospital of the Chinese University claimed it was the first in the world to successfully use the artificial heart valve.

It said 10 patients had undergone the procedure about six months earlier.

Dr Jonathan Ho, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the Chinese University, headed the team.

Dr Cheng said he was sceptical about the hospital's claims on the success of the technique.

The Baruah valve, named after its inventor Dr Dhani Ram Baruah, provides rheumatic heart disease patients with an alternative to a replacement valve made of metal or plastic.

Dr Ho this week insisted on not disclosing the condition of the patients but said: ''More than half of them still survived.

''We are still waiting for results of further studies. I cannot give the details, there are many variables.

''Laymen cannot understand the technique. It is a major development [of heart valve implant]. The concept is well-proved.'' Dr Ho said no other patients had had the surgery and his team was now engaged in laboratory experiment.

He said all 10 patients suffered severe heart problems and expected to live between several months and two years without the surgery.

Dr Cheng said that after reading reports of the operations last year, the society immediately called a scientific meeting and invited Dr Ho to explain the details on the new technology.

He said Dr Ho, who is a member of the society, did not turn up at that meeting and did not respond to later requests for information from the territory's other heart specialists.

The society planned a further meeting to decide what they would do next.

Saying it was too early to tell the results of such advanced implantation, Dr Cheng said there should be more follow up.

Dr Ho said the patients were well-informed of the surgery, including the fact that they would be the first to undergo the procedure which had been tried on animals in India.

Dr Cheng said it was the right time for the Medical Council to consider the need for an indepen-(Cont'd from Page 1) dent committee to monitor the introduction of innovative treatment and deal with concerns about patients' rights and doctors' protection in using such techniques.

''I think Hongkong will soon have it. It is a matter of patients' rights,'' he said.

''The new body can scrutinise. Ethics committees at individual hospitals were not strong enough to look after the whole territory.'' Dr Cheng said the independent committee could play an active role in requesting medical teams to submit regular reports for discussion.

Dr Craig Miller, Professor of Cardiovascular surgery at the Standford University Medical Centre, told the South China Morning Post he had never heard about the surgery.

The standard technique was not to cut everything out but to repair the heart valves, he said.

Dr Miller said it should take 10 years to 15 years of follow-up before deciding how good the technique was.

''I don't know if it is risky. It depends on prior experimentation,'' he said.

The chairman of the Medical Council, Professor Rosie Young Tse-tse, refused to comment on the case.

However, she said issues of this kind were expected to be investigated by the future ethics committee set up under the council once the Medical Registration Ordinance was amended.

The Hospital Authority spokesman yesterday said such problems would not be investigated when patients understood the operation before giving their consent.