Minister must take responsibility for communications breakdown in MOH

December 9, 2015
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

The report released today by the Review Committee appointed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) over the Hepatitis C infections saga puts the blame squarely on the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) staff and seemed eager to absolve the MOH of its responsibilities over the matter.$CUT$

For example, it says that while “within SGH, communication with senior management took place early…there was a delay in escalation from…SGH to MOH”.

But this is contradicted by the report itself as the Committee also states that “from late April onwards” – which was when the infections were first discovered – the MOH was informed through three of its divisions serially: beginning with the Hospital Services Division (HSD)’s National Organ Transplant Unit (NOTU), and also the Communicable Diseases Division (CDD) and the Clinical Quality, Performance and Technology Division (CQPT).

This raises the question as to when the serious information already circulating in the different divisions of MOH was communicated to the highest levels of authority. This can only be cleared up with the release of emails and all other communications between those involved.

As the chief officer of the Ministry, the Minister for Health is ultimately responsible for the efficient and proper communication between the various departments within his ministry.

It is not at all satisfactory for the MOH-appointed Committee to merely conclude that “within MOH, there was no single division with clear responsibility and capability to deal with the issue, resulting in a gap in ownership.” The responsibility and the ownership of the tragic event which resulted in the deaths of several people clearly lies with the Minister for Health.

If the PAP is going to proffer exceptionalism as a reason for the high pay of its ministers, then it cannot, at the same time, argue that communication channels within the ministries led by these exceptional ministers were broken or, worse, non-existent when it comes to a situation as serious as this. This is the largest recorded hospital outbreak of hepatitis C in Asia and one of the largest in the world with tragic consequences for many families, yet it was allowed to smoulder for months before the public and, in particular, those at risk were alerted.

Either the ministers perform at the level of their hubris or they accept that they are really no better than others and pay themselves salaries that are commensurate with their talent and competence. You can’t have it both ways.

More disturbingly, there is a pattern of PAP ministers pushing blame onto junior staff and civil servants rather then taking responsibility for major debacles within their ministries. For example, the escape of Mas Selamat from the Whitley Detention Centre where equipment failure and other serious lapses in security were found resulted in police officers being fired but the Minister for Home Affairs not held responsible.

The second example is the inability of the police to control and quell the riot that broke out in Little India in 2013. In this instance, equipment were found not working, personnel was inadequate both in numbers and training, and police leadership was found wanting. Again, the Minister for Home Affairs was not made to account for the dismal state of our police force.

Then there is the constant breakdown of the MRT system causing much money and inconvenience to commuters. The transport operator has been repeatedly fined but the Minister for Transport whose responsibility is to ensure the safety and efficiency of our of public transport has not been held accountable.

Such a political culture where the PAP claims credit for Singapore’s successes, justified or not, and using it to rationalise high Ministerial salaries while absolving themselves from blame when things go wrong is not in the interest of our nation.

In this light, Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong should take responsibility for the Hepatitis C episode instead of only saying that he was “gravely concerned and disappointed” about the matter.