Singapore—Five staff members of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) have been disciplined for a laboratory incident that led to inaccurate test results and unnecessary treatment for some breast cancer patients.

The staff members were disciplined for “not adequately performing their duties and responsibilities,” a review committee said.

The staff disciplined included those in management. The action taken includes stern warnings, financial penalties, and termination.

The staff will also be counselled, retrained and re-educated.

KTPH said the incident was caused by human error.

The hospital apologised to the patients on Monday (May 3) and said they will be compensated.

The Straits Times quotes the chairman of the KTPH Medical Board, Associate Professor Pek Wee Yang, as saying, “We have reached out to all affected patients to offer our support, and we give the assurance that we will look into the appropriate compensation for each individual patient.

“We would also like to seek their understanding and patience as this process will take some time to complete. In addition, we will provide psychological counselling to these patients, where needed, during this period.”

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At least 200 patients were affected by the errors made at the hospital’s Department of Laboratory Medicine, Anatomic Pathology Section over a period of eight years.

Around half of the patients may have been given unnecessary treatment.

The news that inaccurate test results led to unnecessary treatment broke on Dec 11, 2020.

MOH said that it took a serious view of the incident and asked the hospital to review its other laboratory protocols as a safety measure.

The error that caused the mix-up was an incorrect staining process for the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) test.

HER2 testing is performed in breast cancer patients to determine how aggressive the cancer is likely to be. It also helps guide medical practitioners on whether the tumours require certain treatments.

Tests are usually performed on breast biopsy samples that are stained with a coloured dye containing antibodies to measure the amount of HER2 protein present in the sample.

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The inaccurate test results showed a higher positive HER2 rate than usual. HER2 positive cancers tend to be more aggressive than HER2 negative cancers. Some patients wrongly diagnosed as HER2 positive received over-treatment, the Straits Times reported.

The National Health Group (NHG) Review Committee conducted an independent investigation, which showed that inadequate quality control is one of the reasons the hospital did not see the error earlier.

An implementation committee has been formed to ensure the hospital carries out its recommendations. 

CNA quotes Assoc Prof Pek as saying, “We are determined to set things right to regain the trust and confidence of our patients. We will expeditiously rectify all gaps in our processes in the laboratory. Moving forward, we will ensure strict adherence to industry’s best practices and international benchmarks.” 

Professor Philip Choo, NHG’s group CEO, said, “On behalf of NHG, we deeply regret the incident.

Patient care and safety will always remain our top priority.”

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Read also: 90 breast cancer patients may have received “unnecessary treatment”: Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

90 breast cancer patients may have received “unnecessary treatment”: Khoo Teck Puat Hospital