Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong has issued a statement through his press secretary, Ms Lim Bee Khim, regarding the hepatitis C outbreak. In it, Mr Gan says he was first informed of the matter only on 18 September 2015.
The Minister is now saying that Ministry of Health (MOH) officials or the leadership of Singhealth and the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) did not notify him until 18 September when, according to the timeline of events published by the ministry, the MOH was informed of the outbreak in "late August".
How is it that the Minister for Health, and therefore the Government, was not notified of a matter as serious as this where eight lives were lost (five contributed to by the outbreak of the infection) and another 22 people infected with the deadly virus when it was first detected?
This is despite the fact that existing laws such as the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) and the Public Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (PHMCA) require the Minister to be informed for the specific purpose of alerting the public so that measures can be taken to contain any outbreak with public health implications. In fact, the IDA requires that the MOH be notified of cases of acute viral Hepatitis C within 72 hours.
The episode demonstrates one thing: The poor management of the outbreak – despite the existence of laws to prevent it – resulted in several deaths and infections.
Also, the MOH is now calling for a police investigation. If there is suspicion of foul play, why did it take such a long time for the authorities to call for the police to look into the matter?
As the one in charge of his Ministry, Mr Gan must accept responsibility for the breach in patient safety rather than issue statements through his press secretary scolding people who ask questions of public interest.
There are still many questions, despite the Mr Gan's latest statement, all of which can be answered by the full and complete release of information regarding the episode, including:
Correspondence such as emails, memos, minutes of meetings between officials at MOH, SGH and the Minister for Health,
Anonymised information on each patient, the date of probable exposure and the date of detection of infection (similar to the information that was provided with each case during the SARS outbreak),
Communications between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health relating to this outbreak.