SingHealth to decide if disciplinary action needed in hepatitis C incident; MOH to set up task force: Gan Kim Yong

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said SingHealth will set up a panel to assess if disciplinary action should be taken. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - SingHealth will set up a panel to determine if any disciplinary action should be taken for the hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Dec 8).

The panel will have "sufficient leeway" to determine who is responsible, said Mr Gan, who apologised to the patients and family members affected by the outbreak.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will also set up a task force, led by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, to enhance the processes for handling infectious disease outbreaks. The task force will enhance the surveillance, detection and response to such outbreaks.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Gan said the outbreak has highlighted a need to strengthen surveillance and reporting of "very unusual" healthcare-associated infections.

"We must be determined to learn from this incident so that we can improve... we must work together as a healthcare family and be relentless in our journey to strengthen the system, enhance patient safety and also improve patient care," he said.

The minister made the announcements following the release of an Independent Review Committee's report on the hepatitis C outbreak earlier this year.

Mr Gan said it was not necessary to convene a Committee of Inquiry to look into the incident, as some have suggested, as it would repeat the work that the Independent Review Committee has done. "I am quite satisfied that the report is comprehensive and covered all the key areas," he told reporters.

The Independent Review Committee was tasked to look into the spread of the virus in SGH's wards 64A and 67 that affected 25 patients. Of the 25 affected transplant and renal patients, eight have died. The committee said the hepatitis C infection was a "likely contributory factor to the death of seven cases".

The report highlighted lapses in SGH's practices, including poor infection control and delay in escalating the incident to SingHealth and MOH.

SingHealth, which oversees SGH, said in a statement that the human resource panel set up will examine the roles, responsibilities and actions of key SGH staff, and assess if disciplinary actions need to be taken.

The panel will be chaired by SingHealth board director Euleen Goh. Ms Yong Ying-I, Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Division, and Dr Tan Yew Oo, a medical oncologist in private practice, will sit on the panel.

Mr Peter Seah, SingHealth board chairman, said in a press release: "The SingHealth Board takes a very serious view of the infection outbreak and the issues highlighted by the Independent Review Committee.

"As the SingHealth management looks at strengthening the system for surveillance, escalation and infection control, it is important for us to draw lessons from this unfortunate event."

MOH, in a press release, said it accepted the committee's findings and recommendations.

The ministry said it will work with the SGH management and staff to ensure that the gaps highlighted by the committee are addressed.

It noted that the hepatitis C outbreak has highlighted a gap in the current system.

The virus is not easily picked up through regular surveillance, it said. Within MOH, there was also no designated division with the responsibility and capabilities to deal with an unusual healthcare-associated infection, it added.

"These resulted in delayed recognition of the HCV (hepatitis C virus) outbreak by SGH, and delayed escalation from SGH to SingHealth, from SGH to MOH, and within MOH," said the ministry.

"The findings are a timely reminder not just for MOH and SGH, but also for the entire healthcare community of the need to remain vigilant."

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