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LETTER: Increase hospital efficiency but not at expense of patients – don't forget SGH's Hep C outbreak




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The following is a letter by one of our readers, Yeo SL.

Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said on Friday (10 June) that the healthcare system cannot keep operating on the current care model, and that there is a need to question the rules and purposes of certain procedures to improve efficiency. He then brought up the example of arm rests for patients doing blood tests being cleaned.
He said that in the past, the arm rests would be cleaned between patients and would be ready by the time the next patient arrived. But now, the arm rests were cleaned in front of incoming patients.
He said that this led to time wastage and asked “how does cleaning in front of people, compared to cleaning before the patient arrives, improve safety?”
I wonder if Mr Chee has gone to cut his hair at a barber? After cutting the customer’s hair, the barber uses a blade to shave which gives his customer a clean look. The barber does not change the reusable blade in his shaver in between customers but does it in front of the customer and during each and every cut. Why does the barber practice that?
Because he want to assure his customers that he would not spread blood-borne infections, such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, by using a blade which has been used on a previous customer. The practice is also a reminder to him to be double sure that any blade he uses on a customer is a new one.
Has Mr Chee forgotten about the 25 infections and the death of 8 patients at SGH recently? After the independent review concluded that there were severe lapses by the hospital and the Health Ministry in the incident, the Health Ministry issued ““warnings, stern warnings and financial penalties” to 12 staff in leadership positions SGH and four director-level MOH staff.
The Health Minister, Mr Gan Kim Yong, decided not to name the errant staff of the hospital and its Ministry because he does not want to create a “blame culture in our healthcare institutions.”
Mr Gan also said that “the greatest penalty is not these disciplinary measures. For everyone involved, including those who had provided direct care to the affected patients, we will carry with us the pain and regret of this incident for a long time.”
With this being the pathetic state of care in our hospitals and the kind of of actions the Health Ministry would take against errant doctors in public hospitals, is it any wonder if patients insist that arm rests for patients doing blood tests be cleaned in front of them?
Yes, efficiency at hospitals should be increased but such increasing of efficiency should not be at the expense of patients. And increasing efficiency at hospitals is not a substitute for having more hospitals in Singapore.

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