NUH apologises to late patient’s family

Source: AsiaOne  May 12, 2012

The National University Hospital (NUH) has apologised to the family of a late heart patient for failing to pay ‘close attention’ and give ‘reassuring care’ to her.

Admitting that Madam Heng Choon Noi was shortchanged, NUH waived the $40,000 hospitalisation bill and paid out a compensation to her family.

In a statement, NUH said it “accepts that it failed to give Madam Heng and her family the close attention and reassuring care that they deserved and has apologised unreservedly to the family for this.”

In October last year, Mdm Heng had undergone a heart-valve surgery at the National University Heart Centre, part of the NUH, as a private patient.

She was moved out of the intensive care unit to the general ward when she was showing signs of recovery.

However, it was there that her condition began deteriorating again. Her sons, who were keeping vigil overnight, said they tried to alert the doctors on duty from 1am to 6am, but to no avail.

They claimed that the two junior doctors – a medical officer and a registrar – did little and would not call in the senior doctor despite their repeated requests.

When her surgeon, Dr C. N. Lee, came to see her that morning during his ward rounds, he immediately moved her into intensive care, but it was too late.

Mdm Heng died at the age of 74 from slow bleeding in her brain, according to a coroner’s finding.

Her three sons told the Straits Times (ST) that they were appreciative of the hospital’s ‘care and concern’ and the briefing they were given on the results of the investigation into the circumstances leading to their mother’s death.

They also said the hospital apologised but the two doctors involved did not.

Complaints from her sons that there had been a ‘serious lapse of due diligence by the doctors at the ward’ led to a full-scale inquiry into the case by NUH.

However, the registrar Tay Jia Sheng, who was training to be a heart surgeon, resigned even before the investigations were completed.

The medical officer, Dr Ng Hui Chong, is now at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

NUH said that steps will be taken ‘to ensure that the lessons learnt from Madam Heng’s case’ will be used to prevent a recurrence of what had happened. However, it did not elaborate on what steps it intends to take and how it will go about it.

According to ST, Mdm Heng’s sons have expressed a wish to return the money as a gift to the NUH in their mother’s name, for it to be used for future training of its doctors to improve patient care.