Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong doctor Wong Cheuk-yi faces disciplinary panel over death of cancer patient Wang Keng-kao in 2011

Man died after breathing hole in his throat was blocked by gauze

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 8:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 10:47pm

A doctor whose cancer patient died after a breathing hole in his throat was blocked by gauze appeared before the Medical Council on Tuesday for a disciplinary inquiry.

Dr Wong Cheuk-yi faced three charges of professional misconduct in managing the care of 73-year-old Wang Keng-kao. Wang died at Kowloon Hospital almost seven years ago.

Wong had overseen Wang’s care from October 2011 at the hospital. Wang had undergone surgery at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where a permanent tracheostomy – a surgical incision in the windpipe – was performed to enable him to breathe. He later suffered a stroke and was transferred to Kowloon Hospital for rehabilitation.

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Following Wong’s death in November 2011, gauze was found covering the opening in his throat – the only channel through which he could breathe – and taped down at all four edges by nurses.

The blunder was among the most high-profile medical mistakes in the city in recent years.

Three nurses involved in the same case were found guilty of professional misconduct by the Nursing Council in 2016, and were banned from practising for one month. Their nine colleagues were cleared.  

The Medical Council has tended to take a long time to handle complaints, prompting a bill to reform the doctors’ watchdog that was finally passed by lawmakers in March. The government once estimated it could take about 72 months to conclude a case requiring a disciplinary inquiry.

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In the hearing on Tuesday, Wong was accused of failing to take proper steps to prevent the patient’s permanent tracheostoma from being treated or managed as a temporary tracheostomy wound. He was also accused of failing to take proper steps to ensure no layers of gauze and medical adhesive tape were dangerously or improperly placed over the patient’s tracheostoma. 

He also allegedly failed to alert or instruct nurses and medical staff that the wound was a permanent tracheostoma and not a temporary one, or warn other staff that the term “tracheostomy” in the patient’s medical record was improper or misleading.

Wong had no case to answer to the second part of the third charge due to insufficient evidence. The council’s legal adviser Edward Shum said the term “tracheostomy” did not indicate clearly whether the opening was permanent or temporary. Counsel for the prosecution also said there was no evidence showing nurses were misled because of the term. 

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For the remaining charges, Wong opted not to give evidence or call any expert witnesses. 

Both sides agreed with the medical record that showed nurses wrongly treated the opening on Wang as a temporary one, and a physiotherapist was also aware that the opening in Wang’s throat was covered by gauze. 

The defence will make a final submission on Wednesday and the verdict is expected to be announced on the same day.