So it’s official. The Independent Review Committee (IRC) has found that SGH screwed up big time. That’s why there was the cluster of Hep-C outbreak in SGH earlier this year. MOH has accepted the findings of the IRC. As if they had any other choice.
Notwithstanding the entire litany of areas where SGH and MOH were found wanting, I am sure MOH must be heaving a sigh of relief. At least the IRC “found” that there was also no evidence of deliberate delay by SGH or MOH staff in escalating the outbreak or informing Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong on Sep 18″. The IRC justified this “finding” because the Director of Medical Services’s (DMS) “key considerations then were to make his professional evaluation of the severity and extent of the outbreak, to ascertain that adequate infection control measures had indeed been instituted, and to ensure that new transplant patients were not potentially exposed to HCV infection until the issues had been adequately addressed. He therefore asked for specific additional investigations and actions to be taken in relation to each of these within two weeks, and when these were largely done, reported the matter to the Minister.”
Anyone really convinced by that? Why couldn’t the DMS have made an interim report to the Minister? Isn’t this a big enough issue that the Minister should be informed of even as investigations are ongoing? What was the harm in making an interim report to the Minister while SGH went to complete the additional investigations the DMS instructed them to do? Unless the IRC, or someone else authoritative enough comes up with other credible and convincing explanations, I can only think of one possible “harm” in informing the Minister while SGH went to complete the additional investigations. And that is the Minister would have known and would thus have had to answer for the tardiness in announcing the incident to the public.
I wonder whether we can expect further clarifications from the IRC, SGH or MOH. I think we deserve to at least know the answers to the following:
- What harm would there have been if the Minister was informed immediately after SGH informed DMS of the incident?
- If there was no harm, then how can it be said that it is acceptable for the DMS to wait until SGH completed the additional investigations before he informed the Minister? Why could he not have made an interim report to the Minister?
- What harm would there be in informing the public as soon as SGH had informed DMS? NUH took about a week to release news of its tuberculosis incident without causing any mass panic or to any grave public detriment. So why couldn’t SGH and MOH have done the same thing in the Hep-C incident?
- If there was no harm, then why couldn’t SGH and MOH have announced to the public the moment DMS was briefed, even as additional checks and investigations were being conducted? Why was the release of information to the public contingent on the completion of those additional checks and investigations? What stopped SGH and/or MOH from saying this immediately after DMS was informed: “There’s this Hep-C outbreak. We don’t know exactly what’s happening. We are investigating. Steps are being taken to ensure welfare of all patients. If any patients were in the renal ward during <insert period> and feel that they have any <insert symptoms>, please approach <insert department> in SGH.”?
Will we ever get answers to the questions above? I hope so. But I doubt we would. More likely than not, MOH will say IRC is made up of highly professional people. They were independent. They have given their “findings”. You mere mortals who aren’t doctors (or even if you are, you aren’t better than those in the IRC), just swallow everything they say, take it as gospel truth, shut up, and let’s move on.
So… should we move on?
[Featured image: From wikipedia]