Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong patient left on operating table for hours after doctor leaves to perform surgery at another hospital

Queen Mary Hospital launches investigation after employee alleges that transplant procedure was ‘paused’ with recipient’s abdomen already opened

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 8:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 3:19pm

A senior surgeon allegedly left a patient undergoing a liver transplant on the operating table for three hours, so he could perform a surgery in another Hong Kong hospital.

Dr Kelvin Ng Kwok-chai was supervising Dr Tiffany Wong Cho-lam, the patient’s chief surgeon, at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, according to a report by Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily.

Ng, who practises privately and works part-time for liver transplant centre, is eligible to work for other hospitals.

On October 13, a liver from a deceased donor was extracted at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin at 2pm. It was transferred to Queen Mary, where the recipient was waiting.

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Ng, also a part-time associate professor in the University of Hong Kong’s department of surgery, left the theatre without providing details at 3.25pm, when the recipient’s abdomen had been “opened”, with her liver not yet removed.

The donor’s liver reached the hospital about five minutes after Ng left.

Wong and another participating surgeon also left the theatre after examining the liver. The recipient was then monitored by the nursing staff and the anaesthetist.

Ng, who said he would return by 5pm, did not arrive back to Queen Mary Hospital until 6.30pm. The transplant was completed at about 10pm.

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The recipient was stable after the surgery, a hospital spokesman said on Wednesday.

The spokesman said an employee made a report on October 18 that a liver transplant on October 13 had been “paused” for a period of time.

“The hospital is very concerned about the [employee’s] report and has launched an investigation,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman did not elaborate, saying that a probe was under way, adding that if there were unnecessary delays that affected the safety of a patient and the quality of a surgery, the hospital would take the matter seriously.

Ng and Wong could not be reached by the Post on Wednesday.

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The centre’s director, Professor Lo Chung-mau, also chief of HKU’s liver transplant division, said that generally speaking a liver transplant surgery could be paused for three to four hours for various reasons.

But he described the reason in this case as “unsatisfactory”, as the operation was paused while waiting for a surgeon.

Lo said that the chief surgeon could have made a better decision.

“Dr Wong could have sought help from another doctor rather than waiting for Dr Ng, even though the patient was assessed to be stable at the time,” he said.

Lo added that Ng had served in an assisting role, not supervising, in the surgery.

He did not comment on whether it was appropriate for Ng to leave during the course of an operation.

“Not all doctors could stay from the beginning till the end, it really depends on the manpower arrangement,” Lo said.