Budget debate

Revealing names in hep C saga 'could breed blame culture'

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong speaking to reporters at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Oct 6, 2015, on the outbreak of the hepatitis C virus in SGH.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong speaking to reporters at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Oct 6, 2015, on the outbreak of the hepatitis C virus in SGH. PHOTO: ZAOBAO

Health Minister says encouraging learning culture more beneficial in the long run

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday that naming the people responsible for last year's hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital will not help patients in the long run. The reason is that it could create a "blame culture" in healthcare institutions.

He told Parliament that it is more beneficial "to encourage a learning culture to make our hospitals as safe as possible for the patients".

"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 careful balance," he said.

Mr Gan made the point in his reply to Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, who asked for the names of those disciplined over the outbreak, as well as details of the penalties they received.

Last year, 25 kidney patients admitted to SGH between January and September were diagnosed with hepatitis C infections. Eight of them died.

The independent review committee tasked with investigating the outbreak concluded that poor infection control practices and a slow response were to blame.

Sixteen senior staff - 12 from SGH and four from the Health Ministry - were punished.

The penalties meted out included "warnings, stern warnings and financial penalties".

Mr Gan did not elaborate on the specifics but said the warnings would remain on the staff members' service records.

Stern warnings would also have a negative bearing on their careers, including promotion and awards.

"But the greatest penalty is not these disciplinary measures," Mr Gan said.

"For everyone involved, including those who had provided direct care to the affected patients, we will carry with us the pain and regret of this incident for a long time to come."

The tragedy has also led SGH to strengthen its infection control practices, including the cleaning of potentially contaminated surfaces.

It has also stepped up staff training and education, and engaged international consultants to review its clinical processes.

Mr Gan listed these moves in his reply to Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) who asked about preventive measures taken to avoid a similar incident from happening again.

"We are also sharing the lessons learnt from this outbreak with all hospitals, and working with them to ensure their infection control, risk management and escalation protocols are in place," he said.

Meanwhile, a task force is looking at ways to strengthen the national healthcare system's ability to detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Set up last year by the Health Ministry, it is headed by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, and will complete its review by the middle of the year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Revealing names in hep C saga 'could breed blame culture''. Print Edition | Subscribe