Without much ceremony, it appears that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), Mrs Chew Kwee Tiang has been replaced by Professor Chua Hong Choon, former CEO of the Institute of Mental Health.
The timing of this replacement of KTPH’s CEO is curious, raising the question of whether Mrs Chew was given the boot following the major error by the hospital in wrongly diagnosing 180 breast cancer patients with a more aggressive form of the disease than they actually had.
Some of the patients were consequently given unnecessary treatments that had likely cost each of them tens of thousands of dollars.
The hospital revealed this error on 11 December 2020, noting that about 180 patients had been wrongly diagnosed with HER-2 positive breast cancer, a less common form of breast cancer and normally affects 15-20 percent of such patients.
In order to treat this particular form of cancer, these patients were administered a drug called Herceptin, which has some unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea, chills and fatigue.
What is more serious is that about 3 to 4 per cent of patients taking Herceptin may also experience heart problems. Herceptin can damage the heart and its ability to pump blood effectively, sometimes resulting in mild heart failure, including shortness of breath and chest pain.
The error sparked a wave of anger in the public, with many slamming KTPH for the “unacceptable” error and urging those affected to file a lawsuit against them for medical negligence.
The issue was also raised in Parliament when a number of members of parliament (MPs) including, Tan Wu Meng, Joan Pereira (Pereira), Cheryl Chan, and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Hazel Poa (Poa) asked Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon a series of questions with regards to this lapse, including on compensation and reviews.
Later, KTPH did come forward to say that it will give affected patients a full refund for all costs associated with the unnecessary treatments, and offered additional compensation for “related inconveniences, such as a transport costs.”
A KTPH spokesman said, “Our hospital stands ready to offer further physical, psychological or financial support where needed.”
Then-CEO Mrs Chew said, “I would like to convey my deepest apologies to all the affected patients, their families and their treating oncologists. I am very sorry that they have to go through this. We will provide all the necessary support and assistance, and will do our best to take care of them.
“We treat this incident very seriously and will take all the necessary steps to ensure this does not happen again.”
Members of the public have been critical of the hospital, however, stressing that a refund is an inadequate form of compensation compared to the stress and trauma that the affected patients had to go through.
Now, Mrs Chew was still listed on the KTPH website as CEO as of 17 January 2021. When TOC checked the website on 1 March, Prof Chua Hong Choon had already been appointed and listed as the new CEO.
TOC reached out to KTPH on 5 March about the change in CEO but have yet to receive a response.