Minister of Health: Greatest penalty to staff is the pain and regret of the Hepatitis C incident

Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Health in Parliament today;
(a) what are the names of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Ministry staff who have been disciplined in connection with the Hepatitis C hospital infection cluster in 2015;
(b) what are the penalties and/or warnings that they individually received; and
(c) for what reasons have these penalties and/or warnings been given in each case.

In response to his questions, Minister of Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong said that there were in total, four officers from the Ministry of Health (MOH) holding Director-level or equivalent roles and 12 SGH leaders including senior management were punished.

He said, “Instead of focusing on naming the individuals and developing a blame culture in our healthcare institutions, we need to encourage a learning culture to make our hospitals as safe as possible for our patients,”

“This culture of continual learning and improvement is important for enhancing patient safety and the quality of care.”

“In deciding what to disclose, we have to bear in mind the longer-term impact on our healthcare system and healthcare workers, and strike a careful balance.”

“When a warning is issued, it is lodged in the staff’s service record. A stern warning is a more serious penalty. Not only is it entered into the staff’s service record, it has a negative bearing on his career, including future promotion and awards. A warning or stern warning may be given together with a fine,”

“But the greatest penalty is not these disciplinary measures. For everyone involved, including those who had provided direct care to the affected patients, we will carry with us the pain and regret of this incident for a long time.”

In response to a separate question put forth by Tampines MP Cheng Li Hui, asking what were the measures put in place to prevent the Hepatitis C incident from happening again.

Mr Gan said, “SGH has taken steps to improve infection control by enhancing its processes and strengthening cleaning and decontamination of potentially contaminated surfaces,”

“SGH also enhanced its education and training programmes for staff, and implemented stricter monitoring of infection control practices. To verify that its systems are up to mark, SGH has engaged consultants from the Joint Commission International, a reputable accreditation and consultancy organisation, to conduct a thorough review and assessment of its clinical processes.”

Mr Gan also said, “This includes setting up a National Outbreak Response Team comprising experts from across the healthcare fraternity,”

“This team will augment the efforts of healthcare institutions to deal with disease outbreaks.”

He added, “Other measures include simplifying processes for notification and reporting of infectious diseases by doctors and laboratories. MOH has also designated the Communicable Diseases Division to assume overall responsibility for overseeing surveillance of all infectious diseases,”

The Hepatitis C incident that took place between April and June 2015 saw 25 affected and 7 deaths likely contributed from the infection at the end of the whole saga. SGH came out to inform public about the incident only months after the outbreak had took place in order to screen all the patients that have gone through its renal clinic. MOH stated that it was only informed in late August last year about the outbreak.

Read here – MOH informed of Hepatitis C infections by June, not late August