Gan: Wait for hepatitis C panel findings to determine next step

To date, 25 patients warded at SGH between April and June have been diagnosed with the same family of hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with five deaths possibly linked to the virus.
To date, 25 patients warded at SGH between April and June have been diagnosed with the same family of hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with five deaths possibly linked to the virus.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said Singaporeans should wait for the outcome of the independent review committee looking at the recent hepatitis C infections at Singapore General Hospital as the findings will determine the next steps to be taken.

"We should wait for the outcome of the review committee before we prejudge what the findings will be, as well as the police investigation," he told reporters.

"Let's wait for the police investigation to be completed, and for the review committee to finish its job, and let's look at the findings. We will share the findings, we will study the findings, and we will decide what the other next steps are," he said.

Mr Gan made these comments when asked by reporters about the Workers' Party repeating its call for the review committee to be reconstituted into a Committee of Inquiry (COI).

The WP had made the call last Sunday, and Mr Gan's press secretary had responded then to say it would convene such a committee if the WP was prepared to "lead evidence" before the COI to substantiate allegations it might have.

To date, 25 patients warded at SGH between April and June have been diagnosed with the same family of hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with five deaths possibly linked to the virus.

Yesterday, WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera again called for a COI, telling reporters after a food distribution event in Hougang that his party's call for a COI was made "in the spirit of strengthening our healthcare system - rather than undermining it".

He said changing the review committee into a COI would make its deliberations more transparent to the public and allow it to operate in a way that is seen as more independent from the Ministry of Health. 

"We are not making any allegations of wrongdoing," Mr Perera said yesterday. Neither was the WP taking issue with the good work or the good standing of any of the members of the committee.

But he asked that the committee, chaired by infectious disease expert Leo Yee Sin, who is clinical director of Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Communicable Disease Centre, give some updates on the work it has been doing with respect to the workflow within SGH and MOH after the probable cluster of infections was discovered in April and May.

He acknowledged the committee has been providing updates, but urged it to do more in "assessing the workflow with SGH and within MOH between the timeline of April, May, all the way to October, when the public alert was made and when certain containment measures such as tests of patients were finally commenced".

Mr Gan said yesterday that the committee would make its findings known in due course.

"As part of their task, they will also be looking at the processes in both the SGH and the MOH to identify gaps and to look for the reasons for the cause of this cluster, and to look for gaps and see how we can strengthen the system going forward," he said.

"The committee has been working very hard over the last few weeks. The ministry and SGH have also assured them that we will provide them with the necessary resources and we will also extend full cooperation to them, so that they will be able to undertake a very thorough review."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Gan: Wait for hep C panel findings to determine next step'. Print Edition | Subscribe