HK parents frustrated as doctors take day off

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 September, 2008, 12:00am

Parents flocked to a Hong Kong hospital yesterday to have their children tested for kidney problems only to be told the doctors were off on Sunday.

They were told to return to see doctors today.

The clinic was set up last week at Princess Margaret Hospital to handle patients who have consumed melamine-tainted milk products.

The absence of doctors drew widespread criticism, but a senior health official said there was no urgency for the check-ups.

News that a three-year-old girl in Hong Kong developed a kidney stone after drinking Yili milk daily for 15 months triggered jitters in the city. The girl, from Hung Hom, is the first known victim in Hong Kong of the tainted-milk scandal that has killed at least four babies and made about 52,000 others ill on the mainland.

Products made by at least 22 mainland dairy firms have been found contaminated with melamine - a chemical that causes kidney stones leading to renal failure in young children.

By 1pm yesterday, 12 people who had consumed milk products were referred to Princess Margaret Hospital for further examination. They were between one and 17 years old.

The Department of Health had received 195 inquiries relating to the milk scandal by 5pm. Sixteen people, aged from four to 55, complained of symptoms of renal problems.

Worried parents continued to flock to the hospital in the morning to have their children checked.

'To play it safe, we took our son to have a check,' one father said. 'Recently, we bought seven packs of Yili-brand milk from China. I will not allow my son to drink China-made dairy products for now.'

His son, five, had been drinking two cups of Yili milk every day.

One mother said: 'I could not understand why they closed the door on Sunday. Are doctors not supposed to work on Sundays? Do they really care about children's health?'

She said her daughter would have to miss class today to see a doctor.

Legislator-elect for the medical sector, Leung Ka-lau, accused health authorities of being too bureaucratic.

'The government and the hospital authorities have underestimated the response of parents,' he said. 'The arrangement is insensitive. During this critical time the service should have been provided daily.'

However, Gloria Tam Lai-fun, a deputy director of health, defended the arrangement.

'It is not something so urgent that it needs to be dealt with within 24 hours,' she said yesterday. 'So, if they could not get the service today, they can go again to the clinic during office hours tomorrow.'

Choi Kin, a former Medical Association president and a urologist, accused the government of being unresponsive. 'The health authorities have the responsibility to take care of the cases. They should register the patients and compile some statistics so that they can know how extensive the problem is in Hong Kong.'

The Centre for Health Protection has advised people not to drink milk or consume dairy products that were found to contain melamine. Information on these products can be found on the centre's website, www.cfs.gov.hk.

Yili extended its sympathy to the family of the Hong Kong girl who was the first known victim. It said it would 'assume full financial responsibility for her treatment' if it was confirmed that her kidney problem was due to contaminated Yili milk.