Hong Kong health minister voices grave concern over liver patient stranded without surgeon for three hours
If patient’s safety was found to be at risk, Hospital Authority to follow up seriously, she vows
Hong Kong’s health minister has expressed grave concern over a surgeon leaving a liver transplant patient with an open wound for three hours to do surgery at another hospital.
The remarks on Saturday by Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee came after Dr Kelvin Ng Kwok-chai was reported to have rushed to a private hospital to perform an operation on October 13, while he was involved in a liver transplant procedure at Queen Mary Hospital. He later returned to the public hospital to complete the transplant with other medical staff.
It was earlier revealed to the Post that Ng, a private doctor employed as a part-time associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary’s affiliated institution, was given a special part-time contract because of a serious lack of skilled doctors capable of handling complex transplants.
“We are very concerned about the incident,” the minister said. “If any problems have been found upon investigation, such as human or surgical issues, or if the patient’s safety was put at risk, the Hospital Authority would handle the matter seriously.”
Chan said an investigation panel had been formed by the hospital to look into the case in depth and that the public would be told once its probe was finished.
On a radio programme on Saturday, patients’ groups demanded Queen Mary disclose more fully what happened.
Advocate Tim Pang Hung-cheong hoped to understand details of Ng’s part-time contract.
“Is he allowed to leave during surgery and perform his original duty?” he asked. “What are his working hours?”
Hong Kong Patients’ Voices chairman Alex Lam Chi-yau questioned whether there was a problem in arranging shifts for doctors such that liver transplant duties clashed with other medical tasks.
Speaking on the same programme, Professor Lo Chung-mau, chief of HKU’s liver transplant division, explained it would be difficult to arrange shift work for doctors responsible for liver transplants. Lo claimed the hospital only had seven doctors capable of performing the surgery, which could happen at any time of day.
“Doctors have to be ready 24 hours to perform a liver transplant,” he said. “Their work arrangements have to be very flexible.”
Lo added that Ng had spent more time in the public hospital than he was expected to.
“Ng’s part-time contract does not state any working hours,” he explained. “Looking into the past, Ng’s time spent in Queen Mary Hospital was more than he should have spent as a part-time doctor.”
He voiced concern that if doctors were asked to work a specific number of hours, it could mean no doctors would be available to handle donated organs at a moment’s notice.
Lo also explained it was not rare to see doctors leaving the operating theatre in the middle of a surgery.
“If an operation for a transplant recipient is ready, but the donated liver is not yet ready, surgeons might pause for a while and the entire team might leave the operating theatre if the patient was in stable condition.”
The professor said more than half of liver transplant surgeries involving living donors waited for the organ, with the longest wait for a donated liver being six hours.