Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong medical watchdog accused of keeping grieving husband in the dark over wife’s death

Hearing into death of woman was dismissed and husband says he was not given access to crucial information

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:14pm

The city’s medical watchdog has been accused of withholding vital information from a grieving husband after an investigation into his wife’s death was dismissed.

Wong, a 71-year-old former civil servant who wished to be known only by his surname, said he was never shown the “further information” provided to investigators by a private doctor surnamed Chan, whom Wong believed should be held responsible for his wife’s death in 2013.

As a result of this additional information, Wong said, the Medical Council decided to cancel a hearing on his complaint.

“This is absolutely unfair,” Wong said. “It made me feel that the Medical Council was defending only the medics.”

More than a year after his complaint was dismissed, Wong decided to bring the case to the council again saying it was a task he must “complete before death”.

The case came at a time when the government had tabled a bill to reform the council’s composition to enhance its transparency and shorten the waiting times for hearings.

In late September 2012, Wong’s wife went to consult doctor Chan after her white blood cell count was found to exceed the upper normal range of 11,000 units per millimetre.

After taking medicine prescribed by Chan for about a month – including one called Endoxan to inhibit while blood cell growth, Mrs Wong was left with so few white blood cells that her lungs suffered severely. Her immune system was said to be too weak to defend against an attack from a common virus.

It was made impossible for me to challenge the doctor or to understand the council’s refusal
Mr Wong

On the first day of 2013, Wong lost his wife of over four decades to breathing failure.

Wong believed that Chan made problematic prescriptions and did not monitor his patient closely enough. Wong lodged a formal complaint to the Medical Council in February 2013.

In November 2015, Wong was told that the council’s Preliminary Investigation Committee recommended a hearing to be held in October 2016.

Yet in August 2016, Wong was notified that the hearing was withheld and the complaint had been returned to the Preliminary Investigation Committee because the solicitors acting on behalf of both sides made an application on the grounds that further information was produced.

On October 24, 2016, the committee decided not to proceed further with Wong’s complaint.

The council told Wong that Chan had reduced the dosage of Endoxan on November 2, which was considered a “reasonable practice”, and the subsequent drop in white blood cells was most likely related to the medication but the possibility of viral infection should not be overlooked.

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While the council said “all information available, including the complaint, independent expert opinion obtained and the written explanation from the solicitors acting on behalf of the doctor” had been considered for its decision, Wong said he was not shown the expert opinion or the doctor’s explanation.

“It was made impossible for me to challenge the doctor or to understand the council’s refusal,” Wong said.

Kwok Ka-ki, a lawmaker from the medical sector, said he understood the feelings of the complainant, but said an independent procedure starting with a presumption of innocence must be preserved.

“Other complaint mechanisms also have to protect the respondent – for example, the Independent Commission Against Corruption doesn’t need to disclose its investigation records when it dismisses a report,” Kwok said.

The Medical Council said Wong could provide new information or evidence to request a reconsideration of his case. The council’s secretariat has also agreed to discuss some “administrative issues” raised by Wong.