Pa­tients’ right to know

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - KWAN CHIU The author is a vet­eran in cur­rent af­fairs com­men­tary. This is an ex­cerpted trans­la­tion of her col­umn pub­lished in Ta Kung Pao on Aug 30.

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.

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