Hepatitis C outbreak: GPC supports call for clearer protocol in detecting such incidents

GPC chairman Chia Shi-Lu urged hospitals to adopt a more cautious approach.
GPC chairman Chia Shi-Lu urged hospitals to adopt a more cautious approach. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health has called for a clearer protocol in detecting and reporting incidents like the hepatitis C outbreak in Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Its chairman Chia Shi-Lu said on Wednesday the GPC welcomed the recommendations of the independent review committee that looked into the spread of the virus in SGH's wards 64A and 67. It affected 25 patients, eight of whom had died.

The GPC also supports the measures the committee recommended for improving infection control practices at hospitals, added Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon at SGH.

He also urged hospitals to adopt a more cautious approach even if it was not easy to determine the precise conditions that warrant raising the alarm.

"It may be difficult to define alert or red lines for reporting, but in the light of this event a more conservative perspective with low thresholds would be desirable," he said.

Dr Chia noted that the exact cause of the outbreak is still unknown, but "this is not entirely unusual as for similar cases elsewhere it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause".

However, as the outbreak had ceased after procedures at the hospital were tightened, "it follows that most likely a significant cause was related to these lapses.

A task force headed by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat has been formed to boost infection control in all hospitals, following the release of the committee's report.

Dr Chia, who is an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, said the GPC is awaiting more details from the Health Ministry on the framework to strengthen the handling of such matters. It will then study the proposed measures and give its feedback.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling, who is also a member of the GPC for Health, said the focus should be on minimising the risk of a similar outbreak happening again.

"The ministry and agencies really need to take a hard look at the report," she said.

ziliang@sph.com.sg