Task force to study best practices in disease control in wake of SGH hepatitis C outbreak

Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat to lead a task force to plug gaps highlighted by the Independent Review Committee.
Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat to lead a task force to plug gaps highlighted by the Independent Review Committee. ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
A nurse giving a demonstration on the infection control measures taken when a patient undergoes dialysis at the Renal Dialysis Centre at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
A nurse giving a demonstration on the infection control measures taken when a patient undergoes dialysis at the Renal Dialysis Centre at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Health Minster Gan Kim Yong speaking to reporters on Tuesday (Dec 8).
Health Minster Gan Kim Yong speaking to reporters on Tuesday (Dec 8).ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It will plug gaps raised by review committee in the wake of hepatitis C outbreak at SGH

Singapore will turn to the international arena to draw on "best practices" that can strengthen its ability to respond to infectious disease outbreaks, both in hospitals and the community.

Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat will lead a task force, to be set up shortly, to plug gaps highlighted by the Independent Review Committee, which analysed the hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). The outbreak, first detected in mid-May but reported to the Ministry of Health (MOH) only in September, affected 25 renal patients and may have caused the deaths of seven.

In its report released on Tuesday, the committee found that lapses at SGH had led to the outbreak. These included gaps in infection prevention and control practices, failure to recognise the outbreak, inadequate investigations and delays in notifying the higher authorities in the hospital and ministry.

The committee noted that a contributing factor was the nature of hepatitis C, a liver infection that does not have obvious symptoms.

Mr Chee said that while Singapore has an effective surveillance system for community outbreaks, the panel had highlighted "gaps in how we detect and respond to uncommon and unusual infections".

This will be the focus of the task force, announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday. It is expected to complete its work by the middle of next year. Mr Chee said: "We will learn from international best practices to adapt to our local context, and work closely with healthcare institutions and medical professionals to improve our systems and processes."

MOH said yesterday it had reminded all healthcare institutions and providers to comply strictly with clinical protocols and guidelines. It has also strengthened its own capabilities to detect potential outbreaks, including designating the Communicable Diseases Division to oversee the surveillance of all infectious diseases, and all related information such as notifications and reports.

MOH has also revised its notification criteria for acute hepatitis C infections to be in line with international best practices.

In a Facebook note yesterday, MOH's chief nursing officer, Ms Tan Soh Chin, also urged her colleagues to be positive and open to acknowledging that there could be areas of improvement.

As experts and MPs weighed in on the issue - with many noting the importance of sticking to existing protocols - the opposition Workers' Party suggested that a retired and respected medical professional be appointed as a joint head of the task force.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Task force to study best practices in disease control'. Print Edition | Subscribe