The Straits Times says

Keep safety uppermost in patient care

It is commendable that uncomfortable information that up to eight patients might have been treated with equipment that had not been sterilised fully at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) Dental Clinic between Nov 28 and Dec 5 was made public.The hospital acknowledged the problem swiftly and outlined steps it had taken in its aftermath. Since it does not know who those patients might be, TTSH is contacting all 575 dental patients who were treated during that period to reassure them that their risk of infection is low, provide support and address any concerns. This is how a responsible medical institution should respond to a palpable failure of its operations.

Concerns will linger, however, over how the lapse could have occurred in the first place. After all, procedures and processes had been tightened following a similar case at the National Dental Centre Singapore in June last year.Did the impact of the earlier case recede in the course of a year-and-a-half?Or was this a case of human failure that took place in spite of institutional safeguards?Still, any human lapses themselves have to be assessed in the context of what was done institutionally to prevent them. Were the safeguards sufficient? These are some issues that the Ministry of Health (MOH) must study as it consults technical experts in deciding what needs to be done to further reduce the risks of a re-occurrence. That is an urgent exercise in the light of lapses that have occurred in recent years.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'Keep safety uppermost in patient care'. Print Edition | Subscribe