Health and wellness

Police called after sample of tissue from woman’s breast goes missing from Hong Kong hospital

Woman undergoes lumpectomy at public hospital, but specimen goes missing after being placed in storage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 11:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 8:21pm

A sample of tissue from a woman’s breast has gone missing from North District Hospital in Sheung Shui, prompting the facility to report the incident to police.

The 59-year-old woman underwent a lumpectomy on her left breast at the public hospital at about 5pm on Friday, a hospital spokesman said. She had been found to have an atypical ductal hyperplasia – a benign lesion of the breast that indicates an increased risk of breast cancer.

A specimen with a diameter of about 3cm was collected during the operation.

It was put into a bag and sent to the hospital’s radiology department for analysis. It was then immediately sent back to the operating theatre.

At about 7pm, a nurse from the operating theatre received the sample and transferred it to a bottle filled with formalin, a colourless solution used as a preservative.

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She sealed and labelled the bottle before leaving it in a specimen trolley in the theatre. The bottle was then sent to the pathology department and placed in a cold storage facility at about 9am on Saturday.

On Monday morning at about 9am, a worker at the pathology department took the specimen bottle out of storage to prepare it for a histological examination. But an assistant medical technologist found the specimen was gone, with only formalin left in the bottle.

A search throughout the relevant departments failed to locate the specimen. The head office of the Hospital Authority, which runs public hospitals, was alerted.

The surgical team later met the patient and explained the situation during a discussion about follow-up care, the spokesman said.

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“After preliminary investigation by the hospital, it seems there were no obvious procedural errors contributing to the loss of the specimen, and it might be due to other possible factors,” the spokesman said. “The hospital therefore decided to seek the assistance of the police.”

The hospital had taken immediate measures to enhance security for storing specimens and to review the process for storing and transferring them to prevent similar incidents, the spokesman said.

The team apologised to the patient.