Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently commented on the hepatitis C scandal, saying that “we also always have to be open and transparent with the public and with the patients about what has happened because we must maintain public confidence, and trust in the healthcare system.”
Undoubtedly. Mr Lee, however, omitted that there must also be trust in the political system to ensure the safety of the people. He failed to mention that the Infectious Disease Act (IDA) mandates that infectious diseases be promptly reported to Ministry of Health (MOH).
Also, according to the Public Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (PHMCA), the director of medical services at MOH is to be immediately informed of outbreaks of hospital acquired infection. Section 4.44 of the Act states that the “The Director shall be informed immediately of (a) Any patient or staff with a notifiable disease, (b) Outbreaks of hospital-acquired infections.”
Both these Acts mean that the Government would have been automatically alerted when the first cases of the infection occurred between May and June 2015.
Given such a scenario, the question that PM Lee needs to answer is why was the public not informed of the deadly incident at the very first instance? There was up to a 5-month lapse of silence between the first occurrences of the infection and their public disclosure by the Government.
Even if we accept Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong's statement that the MOH was not officially notified of the matter until late August (which would be in direct contradiction to the IDA and PHMCA), why did he wait for another two months before disclosing the episode – which by then had claimed 8 lives (five apparently contributed to by the infection) and caused 22 infections – in October 2015?
It must be made clear that there are two important issues raised in this episode. The first is the security lapse at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) for which the hospital must answer. The second relates to the delay in the public disclosure of the incident which has nothing to do with officials and staff at the SGH and everything to do with the PAP Government.
The two issues must not be conflated and, more important, the Government must not obscure its role in the matter by pushing the blame exclusively on SGH.
To the second issue of the Government's failure to inform the public of the outbreak in a timely manner, we repeat the following questions in our first media release which PM Lee failed to answer in his address of the saga:
One, why was the public not informed when the outbreak was recognised and investigations commenced in May-June 2015 despite the potential risks to other patients?
Two, was the withholding of the information a political consideration? In other words, was the announcement delayed because of the General Elections?
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party