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WP calls for COI into hep C outbreak but MOH demands evidence first

The Workers’ Party (WP) said that it welcomes “the broadening of the remit of the independent review committee to include review of MOH’s procedures and actions” with regard to the hepatis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

However, the WP said that “the outbreak and the government’s response to it have exposed potential gaps in our public health protection protocols.”

“Aside from the risk to human life, the matter has considerable implications for Singapore’s status as an international business and tourism hub,” the WP said in a statement on Sunday.

It added that “a responsible and transparent government should explain in detail how the delays in public notification and screening from April/May to October represent actions that were taken in the best interests of patient safety and risk minimisation to patients.”

The party said that with the remit of the review committee having been extended to include reviewing the Ministry of Health (MOH)’s “procedures and actions”, the review committee should in fact be “reconstituted as a Committee of Inquiry” under the Inquiries Act.

The independent review committee was announced by the MOH on 6 October.

Referring to precedence from the Little India and MRT breakdown COIs, the WP said  the hepatitis C outbreak “is at least as grave an incident” as the two incidents, with “serious implications for the public confidence of Singaporeans and foreign stakeholders in our vital national institutions.”

The WP statement, signed off by Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Leon Perera, also suggested that the members of the committee be re-appointed.

Instead of consisting of clinicians in the public healthcare institutions, the WP said it should instead be made up of “retired clinicians and healthcare administrators in the committee and the appointment of a retired healthcare administrator or clinician as co-chair.”

“We further suggest that one of the committee’s members be a person qualified to be a Judge of the High Court, as required by the Inquiries Act should the committee be reconstituted as a COI,” the party said. “This would strengthen the ability of the committee to conduct a truly rigorous and, where necessary, critical review.”

In its response to the statement, however, the MOH noted that the WP “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,” the press secretary to the Minister of Health, Lim Bee Khim, said.

“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,” Ms Lim said.

“The Government will convene a COI provided the WP is prepared to lead evidence before the COI, to substantiate whatever allegations it might have.”

Ms Lim also added that the Review 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.”

“The Committee’s findings and recommendations will be made public,” she said. “A police report has also been filed and the police are conducting investigations.”

In its response to Ms Lim’s remarks, the WP said that it has “been consistently clear that we are not making allegations in this regard.”

“Hence we find the reference to “allegations” that we may or may not have to be confusing, distracting and unhelpful,” the statement by Mr Perera said.

He explained that the WP is calling for the review process to be strengthened by reconstituting the current review committee as a COI, and to look into the following issues:

  • the value of the committee’s deliberations being made public, in terms of strengthening public confidence in our system
  • the necessity of tasking the committee to explicitly address the issue of the timeline in public notification and containment measures.

“The burden of responsibility resides with the government in this matter,” the WP said. “We reiterate our call for a COI based on the arguments made in our earlier statement today which have not been substantively addressed by today’s MOH statement.

“Our motivation in making this call is to strengthen the healthcare system on which Singaporeans depend and to ensure that the review is not only successful but is widely seen by the Singaporean public to be successful.”

Ms Lim, in a late reply which was issued past midnight on Sunday, repeated her earlier statement.

“We had made clear we’re prepared to convene a COI provided WP is prepared to lead evidence,” Ms Lim said. “Mr Perera doesn’t say if WP will, and he had also confirmed he is making no allegation.”