SGH files police report to ascertain if foul play involved in hep C spread; 2 US experts appointed to committee

SGH revealed earlier this month that 22 kidney patients had contracted hep C infections while receiving treatment at the hospital.
SGH revealed earlier this month that 22 kidney patients had contracted hep C infections while receiving treatment at the hospital.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore General Hospital (SGH) filed a police report on Tuesday (Oct 20) so that the police could ascertain if there was any foul play involved in the spread of hepatitis C in the hospital.

In a statement on Tuesday (Oct 20) night, SGH said: "In response to media queries, we would like to confirm that we have filed a police report today.

"After initial internal investigation, we are still unable to determine the cause of the cluster of infection. Currently, an Independent Review Committee appointed by MOH is looking into this with the help of international advisors. The police report has been filed so that the Police may ascertain if there was any foul play."

Earlier on Tuesday, it was announced that two international advisers have been appointed to the independent review committee looking into the spread of hep C in SGH.

They are Dr Scott Dewey Holmberg from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Professor Trish Perl from Johns Hopkins University, the committee said in a press release. They will be assisted by Dr Amanda Beaudoin and Ms JoEllen Harris respectively.

The US experts will assist the review committee in providing advice on analyses, interpretation and report of findings.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "With the help of the international advisers, the Independent Review Committee will look into the cause of the cluster of hepatitis C infection in the Singapore General Hospital and identify gaps or weak points that need to be improved.

"Even as the IRC continues its work independently, we are not excluding any probable cause. Hence SGH has made a police report of the incident. This will allow the Police to investigate and ascertain if there was any foul play."

The Ministry of Health set up the independent committee of seven doctors headed by Professor Leo Yee Sin, clinical director of the Communicable Disease Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, to find out how the bug was spread and to remedy any weakness in SGH's infection control.

The committee had earlier requested the help of more experts, including those from outside Singapore.

Prof Leo said: "We anticipate the enquiry and investigation processes to be challenging.

"The international experts will work closely with the local team to provide their inputs, as well as to be actively involved in the investigation processes. This is to ensure that the processes taken are thorough, independent and of the highest international standard."

In the statement, the committee also gave an update on its work.

It has met three times since its appointment. "Investigation work has begun, including ward visits, interviewing staff from SGH, reviewing the movement and care received of the cases, and reviewing existing SGH records," said the statement.

In order for the committee to look into the issues more efficiently and effectively, its members have been grouped into three teams: the epidemiology team, quality assurance and infection control team and case review team.

SGH revealed earlier this month that 22 kidney patients had contracted hep C infections while receiving treatment at the hospital. Eight of the patients have died and five of the deaths could be linked to the infection.

On Monday (Oct 19), the Health Ministry said the Medical Review Committee, chaired by an external senior hepatologist, has found that a hep C virus infection could have been a "contributing factor" in the death of one patient whose cause of death was pending.

This was one of the eight patients who had died from the earlier identified group of 22 patients who had been infected by the virus at SGH.

As of 6pm on Tuesday (Oct 20), SGH has screened 593 patients, of which the results of 512 are ready. The patients tested negative for hep C virus. The remaining 81 results are pending.

A total of 296 staff have been screened. Of them, 294 have tested negative and two results are pending.