Malacca hospital deaths inquiry: ensure hospital subordinate officers and staff feel free and unrestrained to give full, truthful testimony

DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, today issued the following statement (5.9.1973):

Malacca hospital deaths inquiry: DAP calls on Minister of Health to take necessary action to ensure that hospital subordinate officers and staff will feel free and unrestrained to give full, truthful testimony without fear of alienating superior officers

I welcome the assurance given by the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, that if the investigation committee into the Malacca hospital deaths during the breakdown of the autoclave (sterilization plant) found negligence or carelessness on the part of anyone, disciplinary or other action would be taken.

However, the public must be convinced that there is going to be a thorough, comprehensive and unfettered inquiry into the unusual number of deaths in the Malacca General Hospital. The investigation committee appointed by the Health Minister is headed by the Ministry’s Secretary-General, Encik Abdul Majid Yusof, and comprise Prof. Lau Kam Seng of the University of Malaya, Prof. Francis Morasingh of the Universiti Sains, Penang, Dr.Lim Teong Wah of the Institute of Medical Research, Dr. G.G. Lopes, Director of the National Blood Bank and Dr. Ezaddin bin Mohamed of the Ministry of Health.

To the members of the public, the six-member committee are all directly or indirectly associated with the Ministry of Health or the government. What is lacking is the inclusion of members who are completely independent and unassociated with the government in any way.

This is why I suggested the inclusion of an Opposition member on the investigation committee. The Minister’s explanation against this is on the ground that the subject of the investigation is a medical problem and must be handled by medical or professionally-qualified people. This is not a strong enough reason. For, in the first place, the Chairman of this investigation committee, Encik Abdul Majid Yusof, is himself a non-medical person. Secondly, it is vital that the findings of this investigation committee should be accepted without reservations by the public if public confidence of the public hospital system is to be restored. There is no better means to secure this objective than the inclusion of an Opposition member on the investigation committee, for it would prove to the whole country that the Ministry of Health does not intend to hide or hush up the facts concerning the Malacca Hospital deaths.

With a view to ensuring that the findings of the investigation committee commands unanimous acceptance, I would also suggest that the Minister of Health invite an internationally-reputed medical expert from overseas to be a member of this inquiry committee.

There is no strong reason why the inquiry should not be held in public, so that the public can see for themselves that every aspect of the investigation is gone into. I therefore urge the Minister of Health Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew to reconsider the matter, and order the inquiry to take place in public, for this will convince the people of its impartiality and independence.

The Minister’s directive that the transfers and leave for officers involved in allegations of negligence be stopped for the time being is a right step. I also call the Minister of Health to take all necessary action to ensure that subordinate hospital staff will feel free and unrestrained to give full, truthful testimony without fear of alienating and antagonizing superior officers to their future detriment.

Furthermore, all relatives of deceased and interested persons should be given an opportunity to make representations or give testimony to the investigation committee.

Maternity Ward Lift, Malacca Hospital

The lift of the maternity ward of the Malacca Hospital has been out of order for close to a year, and I am glad that the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, had seen for himself during his visit to the Malacca General Hospital the strain and hardships expectant mothers were put to in the three-storey maternity ward.

Apart from the inconvenience, there is the more serious danger of risks to life. As I reminded the Chief Medical and Health Officer maternity lift of Malacca State, Dr. Jagjit Singh, during the inspection yesterday, the unrepaired lift posed a threat to the health and lives of maternity cases which underwent operation. This is because after operation, the blood pressure will be low, and it is essential that the brain should not lack blood or death can ensure. If patients after operation are carried up the stairs on an incline, with the head at a higher level than the legs, then the head will not receive blood. This is dangerous to post-surgical patients.

The Minister of Health has promised to take immediate action on this, and I hope that I will have no more cause to complain about the maternity lift-administration which is a bad reflection on the efficiency of the Ministry of Health with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.