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Singapore disciplines 16 ministry officials, hospital staff over Hepatitis C outbreak

File picture of the independent review committee holding a media briefing and report on the SGH hepatitis C outbreak to the media on December 8, 2015. — TODAY picFile picture of the independent review committee holding a media briefing and report on the SGH hepatitis C outbreak to the media on December 8, 2015. — TODAY picSINGAPORE, March 17 — Four Ministry of Health (MOH) officials and 12 Singapore General Hospital (SGH) staff in leadership positions have been disciplined for falling short in last year’s Hepatitis C outbreak at SGH’s renal ward, which affected 25 patients, of whom eight have died.

The ministry and SGH gave the update in separate press releases this afternoon but did not reveal the identities of the personnel.

The 12 SGH staff include senior management and the sanctions include stern warnings and financial penalties. As for frontline staff taking care of patients, SGH’s panel that examined the roles of key staff in the outbreak recommended support and re-training, as well as competency assessments to ensure they comply with infection control measures.

The SGH panel was led by SingHealth board director Euleen Goh and comprised Public Service Division permanent secretary Yong Ying-I and Dr Tan Yew Oo, an oncologist in private practice.

The MOH officials that hold director-level positions or equivalent that were punished received warnings, stern warnings and financial penalties for their failure to intervene early and ensure the infectious disease notification and reporting system was effective and rigorous. The MOH panel that examined their role in the outbreak was led by Yong and also comprised Health Sciences Authority chairman K Satku and Han Neng Hsiu, Ministry of Defence’s deputy secretary (administration).

MOH also provided an update on its follow-up actions for the outbreak. It set up a National Outbreak Response Team on March 1 made up of 13 healthcare experts including infectious disease experts Leo Yee Sin and Lim Poh Lian. The team will respond to outbreaks as directed by the ministry’s Director of Medical Services, augmenting the efforts of healthcare institutions in disease outbreaks.

Meanwhile, the taskforce to strengthen outbreak detection and response — led by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat — has recommended simplifying the process of notification and reporting on infectious diseases by doctors and laboratories. The reporting timeline will be standardised to “within 72 hours” except for certain pre-specified diseases that require quicker reporting.

Doctors will need to report suspected cases to MOH once, instead of twice now (the second report after they receive laboratory confirmation). Under the new arrangement, MOH will use notifications and data from labs and match the results directly.

Chee’s taskforce is reviewing other measures and is on track to complete its review by June this year.

The hepatitis C outbreak in Singapore General Hospital (SGH) from April to August last year was most likely caused by multiple overlapping factors, including the hospital’s gaps in infection prevention and control measures, an independent review committee that investigated the episode found late last year. — TODAY

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