Hong Kong public hospital apologises after brain goes missing following autopsy
North District Hospital says it will assist police investigations, as patients’ rights group questions string of ‘very serious mistakes’
The management of a Hong Kong public hospital on Friday expressed “deep regret” and apologised over a case in which a brain went missing after an autopsy.
Dr Abdul Karim Bin Kitchell, deputising executive director of North District Hospital, said officers at its morgue discovered the organ was missing on Wednesday. The case was reported to management on Friday morning.
Kitchell said family members of the dead patient, as well as the Hospital Authority, coroner and police were then informed.
The autopsy was conducted on March 2, less than a week after the female patient, 71, died on February 25. She had been admitted to hospital for mental disorders on February 22. The hospital was unable to determine the cause of death immediately and reported the case to the coroner.
During the autopsy, the patient’s brain was removed, immersed in formalin and stored for further examination. The test was planned for weeks later to allow time for the chemical to set into the brain tissue, according to Dr Wan Suk-king, chief of services (clinical pathology) at the hospital.
The sample room, where the brain was stored, was not locked or under video surveillance, Kitchell said.
On April 6, the patient’s body was claimed by family members and cremated. Four days later on Tuesday, doctors of the hospital’s pathology department requested the brain to conduct the tests.
On Wednesday, officers at the morgue found that the organ was missing and failed to recover it after searching for a day. The pathology department was notified the next day.
Kitchell apologised to the patient’s family and promised that the hospital would do its best to assist police in investigations.
Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of the advocacy group Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, questioned why the body was returned to the family before the brain examination could be carried out.
“When the body was returned after the autopsy, everything should have been confirmed and in place. Why did the hospital decide to return a body without the brain?” Lam said.
Slamming the incident as a string of “very serious mistakes”, Lam said the hospital should disclose more procedural details, such as who approved the return of the body and for what reasons.
“The brain is a major organ. In Chinese culture, it is an important tradition to [die with one’s body intact]. The emotional impact on this family cannot be easily compensated,” Lam said.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, Prince of Wales Hospital apologised on Friday evening after a staff member lost about 100 sheets of medical records containing the private information of hundreds of patients.
The incident occurred on Thursday evening. A member of the clerical staff had accidentally left the papers in a taxi after taking them out of the office.
The documents, issued by the Medical Records Office, contain mainly the names and Hong Kong identity card numbers of some patients with follow-up appointments from April 16 to 20.
“The hospital is extremely concerned and has taken immediate follow-up action, which includes informing the police and contacting the Taxi Union Lost Report Service Centre to try and relocate the papers,” a spokesman said.
He added that no patient information should be removed from hospital unless under special circumstances, and there were stringent guidelines on the protection of patients’ privacy.
The staff member in the case did not inform or obtain approval from a supervisor prior to the incident, the spokesman said without elaborating on disciplinary action.