Patients’ right to know
A recent decision by the Hospital Authority (HA) to ban Yu Cheuk-man from doing complicated heart surgery has set off heated public debate over the reason why and whether or not the disciplinary action is appropriate or an overkill.
The fact is Professor Yu is a licensed surgeon specialized in heart surgery and teaches at the Medical School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Even if he is not the first to be banned by the HA from operating on particularly challenging cases, such a heavy penalty is certainly very rare in Hong Kong history. It has been made more controversial than the decision by Yu’s self-defense and rebuttal of the HA’s reasoning to the effect that it is simply unfair. Some conspiracy theorists went so far as to claim it was a case of “premeditated character assassination”, adding a layer of suspicion over the already complicated puzzle.
By all accounts heart surgery can be extremely challenging even for the most qualified professionals and layman observers had better shut up when it comes to technical details. That said, the ban is not just about someone’s career. It also affects the whole medical school where Yu teaches and the management of the hospitals, public or private. Then there is the most important issue of them all — the patients’ health and even lives.
As far as members of the public know, the ban was based on a joint complaint by seven colleagues of Yu’s that alleges he did many heart operations despite a lack of experience in complicated procedures. As a result, 14 of the patients he operated on developed complications after their surgeries, and one died a few weeks afterwards, while another passed away less than two years later.
If these cases are true, relevant authorities should have learned about the problem over a year ago. Why did it take so long to inform the public of such a serious case of misjudgment? And why did the HA wait for months before announcing the penalty against Yu earlier this week? Did he operate on more patents in the past year or so than the complaint claims and, if yes, how did they fare after surgery?
There are many questions over the whole scandal but none matters more than the patients’ safety, rights and interests. All parties concerned must focus on this issue more than any other detail in the case.