Earlier this month (4 January), at least 200 breast cancer patients at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) were wrongly diagnosed with a more aggressive form of the disease that they actually hard due to a lab error.
Some of the patients were consequently given unnecessary treatments that had likely cost each of them tens of thousands of dollars.
The patients were wrongly classified as having HER2-positive breast cancer, which tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. As a result, the wrongly diagnosed breast cancer patients who actually were not HER2-positive, were administered with a drug called Herceptin.
Herceptin has side effects. Common side effects include diarrhoea, chills and fatigue. What is more serious is that about 3 to 4 per cent of patients taking Herceptin may also experience heart problems.
In response to questions by Members of Parliament in the January Parliament sitting, Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Koh Poh Koon has said that KTPH would review the bills of the affected patients. He added that the costs incurred by patients due to unnecessary treatment will be fully refunded.
Dr Koh, however during the same parliament session, made it clear that affected patients will not be compensated for psychological effects caused by the unnecessary treatment.
In a media interview published on Straits Times (ST) yesterday (17 Jan), some of the patients affected by the KTPH’s lab error were more forgiving.
When accounts clerk Stella Seah, 46, was told last month (Dec) that she may have been wrongly diagnosed with a more aggressive form HER2-positive breast cancer, she had already received 17 rounds of Herceptin.
“I broke down in tears as I had been suffering unnecessary pain from the medication,” she said. She added that she had experienced hot flashes, insomnia, headaches, bone and chest pain, and giddiness during her treatment.
Although she considered pursuing legal action against KTPH, she said she has decided to move on. “Initially, I was very upset at having to go through unnecessary treatment but, after all, we cannot go back. Life has to move on.”
Meanwhile, another patient told ST that she was one of the “lucky ones” who were not severely affected by the over-treatment with Herceptin.
She said KTPH reassured her the treatments would have been largely the same even if she had tested negative for HER2, save for the Herceptin prescription.
She told ST, “The (compensation) package they offered also covers my transport costs and the extra tests I had to go through, so I think it is sufficient. This was an unfortunate event and they are doing their best to cover every aspect.”
However, she said it was not yet clear if there might be any long-term effects that will emerge a few years later. “I hope the hospital will still provide care if that were to happen to some of us,” she said.
KTPH also told ST that it will give affected patients a full refund for all costs associated with the unnecessary treatments. It will offer additional compensation for “related inconveniences, such as transport costs”.
Netizens criticised the hospital
Although the report by ST represented the affected patients as being forgiving of KTPH, netizens did not react the same. On the Facebook page of The Straits Times, online users criticised the hospital for making such a serious error, resulting in a large number of patients suffering from side effects and high medical bills.
They added that they are so “disappointed” with with the hospital for its “negligence”, adding that they cannot believe such a thing happened in Singapore.
One user even noted that this problem should be dealt seriously given that patients were prescribed unnecessary medications which may harm their health.
A large number of them urged the affected patients to sue the hospital for making this error. They added that this is a “terrible mistake” and it show that the hospital failed to check and follow-up with the treatments it has given to the patients.
One user questioned how KTPH is going to compensate the patients and their families for stress it has caused due to the wrong diagnosis.
Several users pointed out that if this issue were to occurred in the US or the UK, the patients would have been millionaires as they will heavily compensated for the blunder that the hospital had made.
A couple of users asked if anyone from KTPH who is going to take responsibility and resign due to this error?