Why has the Ministry of Health hushed up the 1973 Malacca Hospital mass blood poisoning deaths

Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP Member of Parliament for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, when introducing a motion to cut $10 from the Development Estimates for the Ministry of Health for 1976 on: 30th July1976

Why has the Ministry of Health hushed up the 1973 Malacca Hospital mass blood poisoning deaths without either a full public inquiry or disclosure of the negligence causing so many unnecessary deaths?

In the previous session of Parliament, I had on 14th January 1974 during the Committee Stage of the 1974 Budget, moved a $10 cut of the Ministry of Health’s salary over the first mass deaths in the Malacca Hospital in July/August 1973.

Some members who were members of the previous Parliament would remember that from the period July 21 to August 20, 1973, patients died en masse form blood and saline poisoning because of the breakdown of the autoclave or sterilisation plant. During that period of one month, there were 106 deaths, although the average monthly mortality rate was only 70- an excess of 36 deaths. Malaysians of all races, Malays, Chinese, Indians, were victims of the Malacca Hospital’s negligence and maladministration.

Although I had pressed for a public commission of inquiry, the Minister, who at first denied that there had been any links between the mass deaths and the breakdown of the autoclave plant, set up instead a departmental inquiry, which is closed to the public, and elatives of deceased families were not called to give evidence, this although the Minister had personally in his office promised me that this would be done.

On 15th January, the Minister said he would consider releasing the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the 1673 Malacca Hospital deaths, but up to date, nothing has been heard.

The Minister had subsequently said that he had referred the matter to the Attorney-General Department for necessary action, but all that there had happened is one coroner’s inquest into the death of the victims during the period, on Vaithilingam. This is what the Malacca Coroner said on 8th May 1975:

“From the list of deaths for the month of August 1973, it could be seen that there were 13 deaths as a result of heart and circulatory disease (which includes renal i failure). This is rather abnormal number of deaths. There was no culture done at random to ensure that all intravenous fluids and A.C.D. solutions prepared was actually safe to be used, even though it was a notorious fact that this should be done. Further, there were facilities to do so, but still not made use of. All the above indicates to my mind one factor only, i.e. lack of proper supervision and proper judgments by the administrative staffs. As such I have to force myself to draw the following conclusion:

Cause of death: Septicaemia

Verdict: (i) Negligence by the administrative staff of the Malacca General Hospital.

(ii) Liability: Open.

Although ugh the Coroner in his verdict said the liability was “open”, presumably on the ground that he was in no position to affix liability on any particular officer or staff in the Malacca General Hospital, he was very categorical in his verdict that the death of Vaithilingam was caused by “negligence by the administrative staff of Malacca General Hospital.”

What clearer and stronger verdict can there be that the Malacca General Hospital must bear responsibility for the negligent and completely unnecessary death of Vaithilingam?

I have moved this reduction motion to express my extreme distate and dissatisfaction at the highly irresponsible way the Minister of Health had conducted himself in connection with these shocking blooding-poisoning deaths, which occurred in the Malacca Hospital in July/August 1973.

In a speech to the annual delegates’ meeting of the Selangor MCA State Convention at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 25th July, tan Sri Lee Siok yew, in his capacity as MCA Deputy President, said:

“If we have a bureaucracy that is hardened up, alienated from and insensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people, we shall not succeed in our plans.”

The Minister of health is the most ‘hardened’ Minister who is alienated from and insensitive to the needs of people.

I accuse the Minister of Health of failing in his duty is not going to the root causes and circumstances of the 1973 Malacca Hospital deaths and giving the public a full public account.

I accuse the Minister of Health of trying to hush up the causes and circumstances of the 1973 Malacca Hospital blood poisoning deaths, in the hope that the public will forget about them with the passage of time.

I accuse the Minister of Health of lack of human feelings for families and dependants who lose their loved ones because of the negligence and maladministration of Malacca Hospital, and of hiding behind the law behind laws and the bureaucracy to deny the families of deceased victim a just compensation to try to compensate for the suffering and pain the Ministry of Health caused to so many innocent homes.

It is no use the Minister of Health passing the buck to the Attorney-General, for the Attorney General is not the head of the Ministry of Health. The public wants to know the full facts, and are entitled to know the full facts, of the 1973 Malacca Hospital mass deaths.

I want to know whether the Minister will belatedly release the report of the departmental inquiry into the deaths and whether he would establish a public inquiry into the 1973 deaths, because it is better late than ever.

What we want is a public inquiry like the one currently going on into the 1975 mass baby deaths in the Malacca Hospital. The Minister of Health likes to boast that he has nothing to hide, but he keeps on hiding the negligence and maladministration of the hospitals under his charge from public gaze. I hope that the Minister would not point to the 1975 baby deaths inquiry as an example to divert attention from the matter I have raised in this motion, as I would prefer not to reveal the circumstances leading to the establishment of the Royal Inquiry into the 1975 baby deaths.

A full public inquiry and accounting as to what actually happened in the 1973 Malacca Hospital mass blood poisoning deaths is necessary, not to bring the dead back, which is impossible. We should compensate those whose loved ones had been so cruelly and negligently snatched away from them. But even more important, we must save Malaysians, of all races and ages, from such negligence and unnecessary deaths.

It is because of the Ministeros policy to hide and hush up the 1973 Malacca Hospital blood-poisoning mass deaths, that the whole general hospital system is still bogged down with inefficiency, maladministration and negligence.

I do not know how many Malaysians are being killed every month every week in the hospitals throughout the country through sheer negligence and maladministration. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the hospitals succeed in hushing them up.

The entire hospital service and system is presently geared, not to eliminate negligence, to prevent unnecessary deaths, but to hush up negligence and voer up unnecessary deaths.

The Minister’s motto for the hospital system and service appears to be:” if you are negligent, just do not be found out!”

We cannot expect a complete change in the hospital system unless negligence, maladministration and downright indifference are punished, and punished severely, aided by the glare of adverse publicity.

The Minister of Health should be in the forefront of such a campaign to end negligence, maladministration and indifference in public hospitals, but we find him instead, the chief spokesman and defender for such negligence and maladministration.

This is highlighted by the case of the 11-year-old Malay girl from Kangar who died in the Penang General Hospital in June, when he was given the wrong injection! How can such things happen? Why were investigations into her death started only after I had raised it in a question in Parliament? Would her death be covered up and hushed up if I had not raised it?

I have just received a new complaint concerning another death.

This concerned the household of the hospital staff in the Penang University. Panjalai d/o Marathammuthu, 38, wife of Sinnatamby s/o Krishnan Nair, an attendant attached to the maternity unit of the Penang General Hospital, stayed at Block A 82 (4th floor) at the Hospital Quarters, Western Road, Penang.

She had been suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis for quite some time, and had been on monthly treatment with the Penang General Hospital.

On 17.7.76 at about 5 p.m., she developed breathlessness. The husband asked nephew, Ragu, 13, a Form One student, to call or an ambulance. The ambulance came at 5.20 p.m. with only one attendant, but without the usual hospital assistant. The attendant went up to the third floor, and returned to the hospital without going up to the fourth floor to fetch the patient.

The husband requested a neighbour who is also an attendant, to call for an ambulance, but the neighbour-attendant could not get an ambulance. The wife died at 5.45 p.m.

If such indifference and negligence could occur when household members of hospital staff are involved, we can imagine the attitude of some hospital staff towards the public.

I will give another case. On 21.6.76, one Mariappan s/o Vellasamy, 50, was hospitalized at about 7.30 p.m. at the Kampar General Hospital with acute stomach pains. No doctor turned up to examine the patient, who was continuously crying out in pain. He was given some pain-killer tablets and sedatives but all these did not help either to stop the pain or to put him to sleep.

One hospital staff was angry at the patient for causing all the trouble he was giving, and assaulted him. At least three attempts were made to contact the medical officer on duty at night, but without avail.

The old man spent a sleepless night yelling in pain.

The next day, the doctor who examined Mariappan found him in serious condition and ordered that he be transferred to the Ipoh General Hospital. I understand that he hospital records were altered to show that Mariappan was admitted into the Kampar General Hospital on 22.6.76 at 7.45 a.m., and not 21.6.76 at 8 p.m. The Kampar doctor diagnosed that Mariappan was suffering from P.G.U. – Perforated Gastric Ulcer.

On arrival at the Ipoh General Hospital, he was admitted and died the same night.

How many such callous, negligent deaths are there in the hospitals throughout the country? I understand that in Penang Hospital, following who died after being given a wrong injection, there is now going on a witch-hunt to find out how I got the information.

Is this more important, than to stop such negligent and unnecessary deaths.

If the Minister of Health can give a satisfactory account of what the Minister proposes to do to let the public know what transpired in the 1973 Malacca Hospital mass blood poisoning deaths, and that real serious steps are being taken to eliminate negligent deaths, I am prepared to withdraw my motion. The ball is in the Minister’s court.