Address the stress on public health system

There can be no excuse for medical blunders, but the shortage of manpower and resources is surely something that rich Hong Kong can deal with

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 12:50am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 12:50am

A one-month suspension from practice might seem lenient for three nurses found guilty of professional misconduct linked to an elderly patient’s death. Many would empathise with the son who fought for years for “justice” for his father if he said he felt cheated of it. Instead, Brian Wang Ping-wan feels justice has been served and has accepted their apologies. In doing so he focused attention on a system he has blamed all along. “I hope the public knows there is something wrong with our medical system,” he said. If the system is to rise to the challenges of an ageing population and the government’s interest in encouraging medical tourism, his words should be heeded.

Hong Kong nurses found guilty of misconduct in fatal blunder banned for one month

By not making an issue of leniency, he has underlined mitigation for the nurses – the shortage of doctors and nurses, inexperience and lack of proper supervision. Of course, shortages are not an acceptable excuse. After all, it is a given that amid stress and shortages of manpower, people are more likely to make mistakes. Brian Wang’s father, Wang Keng-kao, died in Kowloon Hospital in November 2011 after his upper airway became blocked by gauze that was used instead of a loose bib to cover a breathing hole in his throat following surgery for cancer at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Nurses sealed the gauze as if it were a temporary wound. Evidence emerged that Wang Snr’s medical notes regularly used an incorrect term for the wound in the throat, which could have led to the wrong treatment.

The pressure on resources of a system that services more than 90 per cent of the population at ever-increasing cost cannot be relieved overnight. To be sure, the government has unveiled a HK$200 billion, 10-year hospital development plan. But Wang’s case is an example of systemic stress that should prompt officials to address integral issues including manpower , staff training and public-private partnerships. For Wang’s son, the Nursing Council’s decision, which he describes as “fair and just”, does not mean closure. Hopefully, that will come with a reply to his case from the Medical Council, the medical profession watchdog.