MOH: Baseless allegation of political motive in disclosure of hep C cluster

I refer to Ms Rachel Chang's commentary in The Sunday Times ("More questions than answers in hepatitis C timeline?"; Oct 18).

Ms Chang suggests that public officers and medical professionals, in both the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), may have delayed the disclosure of information to the minister and the public for political reasons.

She offers no evidence for this serious allegation. Neither did she put the allegation to the ministry and give it a chance to respond. Instead, she quotes a scene from an American TV political comedy to lend colour to her story.

The allegation is completely baseless. Medical professionals and public officers in MOH and SGH sought to perform their duties professionally and objectively. They acted in the interest of patient safety and to minimise risks to patients. Political calculations played no role in their consideration of the proper course of action. To suggest otherwise impugns the professional integrity of these public servants, who are unable to reply to defend themselves.

The Minister for Health was first informed about the matter on Sept 18. He directed that it be made public, and that a full public explanation be given. Ms Chang makes much of the minister being "officially" informed on Sept 18, implying that he knew unofficially before that. For good measure, she compares this to the situation in the American comedy. This, too, is totally baseless.

The timelines for key events, in SGH and MOH, have been made public. The independent review committee is still looking into the cause(s) of the infection, and the flow of information in SGH and MOH.

As the Minister for Health has said, if there are gaps, we will close them, if there are weak areas, we will correct them, and if there are shortcomings, we will improve.

It is irresponsible of Ms Chang to impute improper motives to the medical professionals and public officers concerned without any evidence.

Straits Times journalism cannot consist of repeating gossip while claiming to air opinions. Singaporeans expect higher standards of journalism from our newspapers, especially a paper of record.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)

Press Secretary to the Minister for Health

•The Editor replies: It was not the intention of our column to impugn the integrity of public servants. We also did not mean to imply that the Minister for Health was "unofficially" informed beforehand about this matter. We are sorry that our column gave these wrong impressions.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline MOH: Baseless allegation of political motive in disclosure of hep C cluster. Subscribe