Focus now to review systems to enhance infection control

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) are deeply sorry for the hepatitis C outbreak at SGH's renal ward last year.

Affected patients remain our primary concern and will continue to receive hepatitis C treatment, counselling and support from SGH.

Senior health correspondent Salma Khalik's commentary suggests that MOH and SingHealth are intent on protecting officials and doctors, and have not viewed the outbreak seriously enough ("Name those responsible for hep C infections at SGH"; last Saturday).

This is not the case.

As the commentary itself noted, MOH set up an independent review committee to investigate the causes of the outbreak and recommend areas for improvement.

The independent review committee produced a thorough report that was released publicly.

The independent human resource (HR) panels that SingHealth and MOH established to look into disciplinary matters took into account the independent review committee's conclusions that the outbreak was due to gaps in infection prevention and control practices at SGH's renal ward, and that there were delays in escalation processes.

The SingHealth HR panel decided that the junior and front-line staff involved would be required to undergo retraining and competency assessment to improve infection prevention and control practices.

The panels decided instead to hold senior officers at SGH responsible for the failure to enforce a strong infection control regime and incident escalation protocols, and those at MOH for gaps, such as weaknesses in the national notification and surveillance system for unusual healthcare-associated infections such as acute hepatitis C.

The deliberations and recommendations of the independent human resource panels for SGH and MOH were carefully considered and approved by the SingHealth board of directors and the Public Service Commission, respectively.

We have made public the detailed findings of the independent review committee and announced the outcome of the disciplinary process.

Looking ahead, the focus for MOH and SGH is to review our systems and processes to enhance infection control and strengthen detection and response to infectious diseases.

Revealing the names of the officers would not contribute to fixing the gaps in infection controls and reporting practices.

Healthcare institutions have instead tried to foster a culture that encourages continual learning and improvement.

In deciding what to disclose, we have to bear in mind the longer-term impact on our healthcare system and healthcare workers, and strike a balance.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)

Director

Corporate Communications

Ministry of Health

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'Focus now to review systems to enhance infection control'. Print Edition | Subscribe