Editorial:Falling Object Incidents at Public Hospitals

【明報專訊】Since the middle of last month, there have been reports of falling concrete or equipment at public hospitals — one after another, it would be fair to say. First, there was an incident at United Christian Hospital where a surgical lamp fell and caused an injury. Then there was the incident at Tuen Mun Hospital, where the external cover of the gate motor box came off one of the ceiling hoist tracks at a medicine and geriatric ward, though fortunately no one was injured. Furthermore, the media has revealed that in November last year, a piece of spalling concrete in a Castle Peak Hospital ward dropped onto a medical bed, but luckily not hit patients. Yesterday (8 March), in a consultation room at a child and adolescent psychiatric ward of Kwai Chung Hospital, some suspended ceiling tiles and concrete slabs fell off. The largest fragment measured 30 cm by 30 cm. Had the incident not happened in the early hours but during consultation hours, someone could have been injured.

Concerning the surgical lamp plunge at United Christian Hospital, the Hospital Authority (HA) announced it only a day later. As if it were squeezing toothpaste, the HA released piecemeal details in several rounds, before being flooded with criticism over the way it disseminated information and made notifications. The HA's response was somehow better regarding the concrete fall at Kwai Chung Hospital. HA Chief Executive Tony Ko apologised for the trouble the recent string of falling object incidents had caused its patients and staff, stressing that the HA has "all along employed open and transparent policies in handling accidents".

The accidental fall of the surgical lamp at United Christian Hospital was caused by screws with stripped thread loosening. HA investigation afterwards has found as many as 23 surgical lamps with potential safety risks. The contractor should indeed be held accountable for its inadequate maintenance and inspection. However, the HA has also admitted that it did not review the maintenance of the surgical lights, which has inevitably led to the impression that the HA had been complacent and did not seriously follow up or review the service standards of the contractor. Remediating after an accident was already too late. In the recent series of falling object incidents, the HA has said nearly every time that it was "very dissatisfied" with the performance of the contractors or consultancies involved. However, the public wants to know better why the HA has placed its trust in the wrong people so many times and whether the HA has earnestly supervised the performance of service providers before.

One naturally connects spalling concrete to the ageing of buildings. Public hospitals and clinics under the HA occupy around 300 buildings in total. More than half of them were completed over three decades ago; some are even 50 to 60 years old. In 2013, the government appropriated $13 billion to the HA in one go so it can plan flexibly minor construction projects in the 10 years to come to improve and maintain public hospital facilities. The repeated incidents of concrete tumbling in public hospitals invite questions over whether the HA has found an antidote in its restoration projects.

Now that the pandemic is over, the HA should put more effort into improving the maintenance standards of medical equipment in public hospitals and speeding up the tackling of ageing buildings and hardware. When it comes to areas with hidden safety hazards in public hospitals, their frontline staff know best. The authorities should simplify the complicated procedures for reporting hidden dangers and risks and encourage a "reporting culture". As for problems such as ageing buildings, the HA can rank repair items in order of priority according to the risks and arrange for professionals to conduct detailed inspections, instead of just sending people to briefly patrol and have a quick look. Furthermore, government departments such as the Buildings Department should also assist rather than sit on the sidelines. Tony Ko emphasised yesterday that the HA bears the ultimate responsibility for the safety of hospital facilities. Hopefully, the HA will put its words into action and walk the walk.

明報社評 2023.03.09:公院墜物嚇煞人 改善管理促安全






/ Glossary生字 /

spall:to split or cause to split into such fragments

earnestly:in a very serious and sincere way

walk the walk:to act in a way that shows people you are really good at what you do, and not just good at talking about it

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