Role of staff is to save lives - outside as well as inside hospitals, says authority chief Hospital Authority chiefs offered a public apology yesterday for the failure to rescue a dying heart attack patient on the doorstep of the Caritas Medical Centre on Saturday, which sparked a public outcry. Authority chief executive Shane Solomon said hospital staff should remember that their core role was to save lives, outside as well as inside hospitals, and no rigid guideline should come before that. Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk offered his 'deepest apology' for the anxiety and discomfort caused to Hong Kong people. And Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said the hospital's handling of the matter had fallen short of public expectations. Their comments came as a slap in the face to Caritas Medical Centre's chief executive Ma Hok-cheung, who on Sunday said the receptionist who asked the dying man's son to call an ambulance - instead of calling the hospital's accident and emergency department - had rightly complied with hospital guidelines. Dr Ma made a U-turn yesterday, saying that what the receptionist had done was 'inadequate' to help the heart patient. 'I apologise to the patient's family and the public,' he said. The receptionist, a young woman, is on sick leave and undergoing counselling. The authority yesterday also announced a new mechanism for all public hospitals on how to respond to emergencies near their premises. In Saturday's incident, a 56-year-old man suffering a heart attack collapsed outside the hospital building. The man's son ran to the receptionist for help but she told him to dial 999 for an ambulance. The patient was taken to the emergency room 26 minutes after arriving at the hospital but he was later certified dead. The son of the dead man, surnamed Yeung, gave statements to the police yesterday and said he would discuss with his family what to do next. 'I feel a bit better after hearing the apology ... but I still feel very confused.' Dr Chow expressed his deepest condolences and sympathy to the family. 'The way the Hospital Authority handled the incident really has fallen short of expectations,' he said. 'The frontline staff who first had contact [with the person seeking help], firstly had the responsibility to contact the emergency room or anyone who is in charge of handling urgent cases. 'Secondly, if there is a need to call 999, the staff should dial 999 for the patient.' Dr Chow also stressed that hospital guidelines could not be comprehensive and it would be a burden for hospital staff if they were required to follow them strictly. 'The guidelines for hospital staff are only there to help handle different situations, but they cannot cover all kinds of situations, especially in the case of a hospital, for anything can happen in a hospital. Requiring hospital staff to strictly follow guidelines would be a burden to them.' Mr Solomon reminded hospital staff that their job was to save lives. 'Our core value is to save lives - not only the lives of patients inside the hospitals but also in the vicinity of the hospitals.' He said the authority would consider whether to take action against Caritas staff after receiving an investigation report in about a week. A government source said ministers who discussed the matter at a meeting yesterday morning considered the hospital's handling of the situation unacceptable. Asked whether the apology offered yesterday was prompted by high-level intervention from the government, the source said: 'If the line taken by senior management of Caritas Medical Centre on Sunday was well-received, York Chow would not have come out to mend the fences.' The source said the incident would leave a bad public perception. 'But I think most people understand that it arose from lack of flexibility on the part of frontline staff.'