WP calls for a COI on Hepatitis C cluster at SGH

AFP News/Roslan Rahman - Singapore General Hospital

The Workers’ Party (WP) has called for the independent review committee looking into the outbreak of Hepatitis C virus infections at the Singapore General Hospital to be reconstituted as a Committee of Inquiry (COI) under the Inquiries Act.

Making this proposal in a media release on Sunday (25 Oct), Leon Perera, WP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament-elect, said the deliberations of the separate COI to investigate the December 2011 MRT breakdowns and the 2013 Little India Riots were made public, strengthening public confidence in the public transport and security systems, respectively.

“The Hepatitis C outbreak is at least as grave an incident as the MRT breakdowns and Little India riot, with serious implications for the public confidence of Singaporeans and foreign stake-holders in our vital national institutions,” Perera said.

WP also noted the current review committee comprises currently serving clinicians in public healthcare institutions.

“Now that the committee’s remit has been broadened to include a review of MOH’s workflow, these individuals are effectively being asked to critique the actions of senior civil servants who oversee and administer government policy that affects their work as clinicians on a day-to-day basis. This would place members of the review committee in an awkward position,” Perera said.

To circumvent this, WP recommends the inclusion of retired clinicians and healthcare administrators in the committee and the appointment of a retired healthcare administrator or clinician as co-chair.

Should the committee be reconstituted as a COI, WP proposes one of the committee’s members be a person qualified to be a Judge of the High Court, as required by the Inquiries Act.

WP said four individuals may have died as a result of the Hepatitis C viral infections and that one more person may have died for reasons possibly related to the infections. There was also a long delay from the time of the discovery of the cluster of infections in April/May right up till 18 September when the Minister for Health was informed of the cluster, it added.

The government’s response to the matter has exposed potential gaps in Singapore’s public health protection protocols. In addition to the risk to human life, the matter has considerable implications for Singapore’s status as an international business and tourism hub.

As such, the work of the review committee is critical not just to rectify any lapses to prevent future recurrences, but to maintain and bolster public confidence in the healthcare system and review processes.

To this end, not only must the review be rigorous, transparent, independent and fair in terms of its outcomes, it must also be seen to be so.