Malacca hospital deaths – formation of Committee of Deceased Families

Statement by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Kim Kiat Siang, at a Press Conference at 33A, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Melaka, on Friday, 7th September, 1973 at 11 a.m.

Two pre-conditions for a satisfactory inquiry

This is my second press conference on the Malacca Hospital deaths arising from the breakdown of the hospital’s autoclave (sterilization plant).

Since my first press conference on August 22 making public the unusual number of Malacca Hospital deaths and calling for a Public Commission of Inquiry into the negligence and maladministration of the Malacca Hospital which made such deaths possible, the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, has established an investigation committee and promised that if there is any finding of negligence or carelessness on the part of anyone, disciplinary or other action would be taken.

I am not fully satisfied with the formation of the investigation committee because (i) the proceedings will be in secret, away from public gaze; and (ii) the absence of completely independent or unbiased members, as a representative from the Opposition or a foreign medical expert.

It is only when these two conditions are met that the public can be fully convinced that there will not be any white-washing or hush-up exercise, but that the whole truth will be investigated to ascertain the causes of the unusual high number of Malacca Hospital deaths. Even more important, only a full-scale and unfettered investigation can save future human lives and suffering from the consequences of negligence and maladministration.

Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, misled by his officials about the autoclaves

Since my press conference on August 22, my colleagues and I have made independent investigations and I am now satisfied that when the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, made his first statement on August 24 in response to my press conference, he was misled by his officials and was not given the full facts concerning the autoclaves.

Thus, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew said:

“I would like to clarify that one autoclave was condemned on July 21. Immediate action was taken by the hospital authorities to use the second autoclave available in the hospital.”

“However, since August 13, the second autoclaves also started to break down and was immediately stopped from being used.”

“At the same time, action was taken to install two new autoclaves which were already available in Malacca General Hospital.”

The actual facts are:

1. The first autoclave was marked for condemnation in May but it was used until July 21.

2. When the first autoclave was finally withdrawn from operation on July 21, the Minister of Health said that the hospital authorities used the ‘second autoclave’ available in the hospital, which started to break down from August 13.

In actual fact, the so-called ‘second autoclave’ was not a proper autoclave capable of sterilizing medical equipments. This was why one departmental head refused to have his medical equipments ‘sterilised’ by the so-called second autoclave, and sent his materials to Muar General Hospital for proper sterilization; and he still does so today.

The second autoclave was not stopped because “since August 13 it started to break down” for autoclaves are not made to last only for three weeks. What intervened was the unusual high rate of deaths because of unsterilised bottles and containers loading to contamination of blood and saline. This way why around August 15, the hospital authorities destroyed 42 pint-bottles of blood and over 2000 bottles of saline.

Minister of Health misled by his officials. Will Investigating Committee be similarly misled?

Thus, if on such vital information, the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, can be misled through being fed with incomplete and selective information and facts, the likelihood of the investigation committee being fed selective and incomplete facts and information is even greater!

This is why I renew my call for a public inquiry and the inclusion of Opposition representative and a foreign medical expert for a truly thorough and impartial inquiry.

Inquiry Committee should investigate into the deaths during the period from July 21 to August 20

In my previous press conference of August 22, I called for a Public Inquiry into the Malacca hospital deaths from August 6–16. In response to that call, the Health Minister said that there were 12 deaths during this period and they would be inquired into.

From the information available, it is now clear that the Malacca Hospital did not have a proper autoclave for the sterilization of bottles and containers with effect from July 21, if not earlier. We have also come across cases of unexplained deaths in the latter half of July.

It is evident now that the period which should be under investigation are not the ten days between August 6–16 as I originally stated, but for one whole month from July 21 to August 20.

In this connection, I also ask the hospital authorities or the Health Minister, Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew, to disclose the total number of Malacca Hospital deaths from July 21 to August 20.

Formation of Committee of Deceased Families

The six-man investigation committee appointed by Tan Sri Lee Siok Yew will be coming to the Malacca General Hospital on September 10, 11 and 12 to begin its work.

It would be unfair, unjust and improper if the investigation committee locked themselves in the hospital and hear only one side of the story.

The deceased families have a right to appear before the investigation committee and have a representative at the entire inquiry.

I announce here the establishment of a Committee of the Deceased Families, which will ask the Investigation Committee to be given opportunities to give evidence, and to have their representative sit in on the inquiry.

The Committee of the Deceased Families will also seek legal opinion on seeking legal redress and compensation from the authorities.

On behalf of the Committee of the Deceased Families, I will mention here a few cases of unusual deaths:

(1) Deceased: Tan Kim Chat, 20, wife of Peragalathan s/o Nagamuthu. She was admitted on July 19 on first case of pregnancy. She was given drips on 26th July. Gave premature birth on July 27 at 12.30 a.m.

Baby was stillborn, but mother alive and well. The husband saw the wife at 8.00 a.m., and was told by the doctor that she was all right. Later in the morning, she had rigors and died at 2.30 p.m. The cause of death given in her death certificate was ‘pulmonary embolism’. This is an unusual death, for it is the first case of pregnancy, and she had been receiving pre-natal care. I have been informed by my medical friends that ‘pulmonary embolism’ is an uncommon occurrence.

Tan Kim Chat in a strong-built person, who had no previous complaints about her health.

(2) Deceased: Vaithilingam s/o Kuppusamy, 35, rubber tapper. The deceased went on his own to the hospital on August 10 for a stone in bladder operation.

He was given drips and blood transfusion. After his operation on the morning of August 10, complication developed. A second surgery took place the same afternoon. He died on August 11 at 7.00 p.m.

It is unusual for a young man on a common complaint of stone in bladder to die. The death certificate gave as cause of death Acute Renal Failure. Was there a previous check on the renal condition before the operation?

(3) Deceased: Choo Kaing Bui (F), 27, of Jasin.

Admitted on 16th August 1973 at 2.00 a.m. for sixth birth. In all five previous pregnancies had normal deliveries. The husband went on 17th August at 5.00 p.m., and was told that his wife was in a serious condition. He could not find out why or how. He had to wait until 10.00 p.m., when he was informed by a doctor that his wife dangerously ill. When he was taken to see her, her hands and arm were bloated, and he saw she was receiving drips. The wife was in semi-consciousness until she died on 18th August at 12.50 a.m.

The death certificate gave as cause of death ‘Endotoxin shock’ which means blood poisoning.

Deceased was in fit condition as late as 16th August, where she could wash her own clothes in the hospital. She leaves behind six children and her latest child survived her.

(4) Deceased: How Joo Choon (F) admitted on 29th June for simple repair of a hernia. Operated on July 2, 1973, followed by complication, where the faeces could not pass out from anal opening, but the abdominal wall. Developed rigors and drop in blood pressure on 2nd August 1973, and again on 11th August 1973. Lapsed into coma after 11th August and died on 19th August.

(5) Deceased: Theresa Das, 40. Alive and well up to June 1973 when she developed an ulcer on her left leg. On 18th June 1973, she registered herself at the Gudang Ubat Kerajaan Malacca for treatment of the ulcer. At the beginning of August she developed a fever. She was admitted to the General Hospital on 3.8.1973. Her fever subsided in hospital, but she was transferred to the gynecology ward because of a lump in her lower abdomen.

Blood tests revealed that she was suffering from anemia as well. Accordingly she was given a blood transfusion on 9th August 1973. Her mother visited her on the same evening and found that her daughter was having fever and rigors.

The ward nurse was informed, but reassurances were given to the mother and she was told not to worry. The mother went home after this, about 6.00 p.m.

However, next morning at 6.30 a.m. (10.8.1973) a policeman knocked at her door and informed her that her daughter was seriously ill and advised her to go the hospital immediately.

The mother went immediately to her daughter’s bedside and to her horror she found her daughter cold and very dead.

Theresa Das was a fairly normal and healthy person. She was given blood transfusion to build up her blood to boost her for an operation. She developed fever and rigors after the blood transfusion and died some hours later without undergoing any operation.

Cause of death given in the certificate was: ‘Myocardial Infarction’. She has no history of chest pain to suggest that the deceased had a heart complaint or disease.

Other Deceased Families

We have other cases, which we are still investigating, and which when completed, will join in the Committee of Deceased. As for those whose relatives have passed away during this period, but whom we have not contacted, they should contact us, to help in bringing about radical reforms to the Malacca General Hospital.