Mechanisms dealing with medical blunders in Hong Kong have failed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 12:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 12:15am

As former head of plastic surgery at Prince of Wales Hospital, I wish to write about medical blunders.

It is inevitable that medical blunders will occur. What is important is that there are robust mechanisms to deal with them appropriately; that is to say, quickly, impartially, noting lessons learnt to further patient safety and ensuring that justice is served. On all accounts, the current system in Hong Kong is an abysmal failure.

When blunders occur, institutions and individuals generally turn to the law to determine accountability. While this might be fine in principle, the practice of medico-legal justice calls for an extensive and innovative law reform.

Hong Kong could do it. It needs a strong local government which wants to put Hongkongers back on the map. They will be going head to head with the two most powerful professions in society – medicine and the law.

A new administration with a clear mandate from the people will demand much higher professional standards from these two groups than currently occur in the adversarial system.

Fighting invariably leads to hiding the truth rather than seeking it; reputations are expensively but not always appropriately protected. Insurance firms pay huge sums of money to solicitors but very little trickles down to patients.

This is the “me-first”, get-rich-while-you-can, myopic view of the world by too many in Hong Kong.

The SAR has a unique opportunity to lead the world in bringing accountability to health and justice.

In medico-legal practice, I propose that an inquisitorial system should be used. Specially trained salaried investigators will investigate and have unlimited access to all relevant information.

Recommendations will be made to a judicial branch that can deliver the verdict of law.

It will require bold leadership, the drafting of brave laws, the implementation of a whole new set of values that will set Hong Kong above and apart from being just another southern Chinese city. It will also be important to restyle the professional regulatory councils.

No one should be above the law. Hong Kong may not be a democracy, but it can be a fair and just society with professions that act with dignity, responsibility and accountability.

Andrew Burd, Tai Po