Hepatitis C infections

Hepatitis C infections: Government responds to WP call for COI

The Workers' Party (WP) yesterday called for a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to probe the cluster of Hepatitis C infections at the Singapore General Hospital.
The Workers' Party (WP) yesterday called for a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to probe the cluster of Hepatitis C infections at the Singapore General Hospital. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

It will set up Committee of Inquiry if Workers' Party can lead evidence to back any allegations

The Workers' Party (WP) yesterday called for a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to probe the cluster of Hepatitis C infections at the Singapore General Hospital.

The Government responded 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.

WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera had, in a statement, called for the independent review committee set up by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to look into the infections to be reconstituted as a COI, arguing that the situation is "at least as grave" as the 2011 MRT breakdowns and the 2013 Little India riot, both of which saw COIs called.

Last night, Ms Lim Bee Khim, press secretary to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, replied: "The WP statement is careful not to make any suggestion that SGH or MOH officers acted with improper motives. Yet, it has asked for a COI ahead of the committee's report and the conclusion of police investigations.

"If the WP believes that there are questions that the committee cannot answer, or that any officer acted with improper motives, it should state so directly. The Government will convene a COI provided the WP is prepared to lead evidence before the COI, to substantiate whatever allegations it might have."

To date, 23 patients warded at SGH between April and June have been diagnosed with the same family of Hepatitis C virus. Two more patients have tested positive, and SGH is studying if they are part of the same cluster - if so, the number infected would be 25.

Eight patients have died, with five deaths possibly linked to the virus. MOH has appointed an independent review committee to review the cause of the incident and surrounding circumstances.

Ms Lim said the committee has "engaged additional resource persons, including international advisers, to ensure that it has access to all the necessary expertise to do its review thoroughly".

Mr Perera had, in his statement, suggested that retired clinicians and healthcare administrators be included in the committee, and one of them be made co-chair.

He also suggested that one of the committee members be someone qualified to be a High Court judge.

The WP also said the Government should explicitly task the committee to investigate the reasons for two "extended delays" in the chain of events. One, between SGH's discovery of the infections in April and May, and its notifying MOH in late August. Two, between the Director of Medical Services being told on Sept 3, and the Health Minister being informed on Sept 18.

WP added: "Calls on the Government to explain the delays in detail should not be met by calls to provide evidence of any inappropriate motivation."

In the Government's reply, Ms Lim said: "The committee's findings and recommendations will be made public. A police report has also been filed, and the police are conducting investigations."

Mr Perera later said on Facebook that the WP found the reference to "allegations" it might or might not have "confusing, distracting and unhelpful". "We are not making allegations in this regard. We are calling for strengthening of the review process by reconstituting the current review committee as a COI."

In response, Ms Lim said: "We had made clear we are prepared to convene a COI provided WP is prepared to lead evidence. Mr Perera doesn't say if WP will, and he had also confirmed he is making no allegation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Govt responds to WP call for COI'. Print Edition | Subscribe