The Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Tuesday (Oct 6) apologised for a Hepatitis C outbreak in one of its renal wards.
The hospital said in a statement that it noted an increase in new cases of Hepatitis C infections in early June this year and subsequently conducted a check for the virus in patients with abnormal liver function test results as it causes liver disease.
22 of its renal patients were found to be infected. Among them, four have died.
Although the patients who died also had multiple co-morbidities and severe sepsis, the hospital has not ruled out a possible link between the infection and their deaths.
SGH said that initial investigations revealed that all 22 infected patients were warded in the newly-renovated Ward 67 between April and June this year while the original renal ward - Ward 64A - was being renovated.
Investigations into the cause of the infections are ongoing, but initial investigations have shown that intravenous (IV) injectable agents could be a possible source.
To contain the infection, the hospital has taken "aggressive steps to rectify any shortcomings detected in the investigations; and eliminate, as far as practical, all possible sources of infection," said Prof Fong Kok Yong, Chairman of SGH's Medical Board.
To date, the hospital has screened all patients with abnormal liver function test results and found no new cases of Hepatitis C infection.
In addition, medical staff who are providing direct care to renal patients are being screened for hepatitis C. The screening is also extended to other doctors who covered the affected ward during the period.
Meanwhile, SGH is actively contacting patients who were admitted to Wards 64A and 67 from January to June this year for screening.
Chief Executive Officer of SGH Prof Ang Chong Lye said: "We would like to apologise unreservedly for the grief, pain and anguish this has caused our patients and their families."
"Patient safety is non-negotiable. What happens to our patients is always our responsibility. We will spare no effort in reviewing our processes and examining all possible sources of infection to prevent recurrence."
SGH added that it has kept in touch with affected patients and their families, and will continue to provide them support and appropriate care in managing their condition.
Patients who are unsure if they are affected may also call 6321 3356, sms 8799 2736 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and provide their name and NRIC number to the hospital.
Ministry of Health appoints independent review committee to investigate SGH Hepatitis C outbreak
The Ministry of Health (MOH) also said in a statement on Tuesday that it has convened an independent review committee to investigate the Hepatitis C outbreak at SGH.
The committee will review the hospital's findings to identify and remedy any weak points in the overall workflow with regard to infection control.
This will yield learning points for the wider healthcare system in Singapore, said MOH.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "I am gravely concerned and disappointed with the occurrence of the cluster of Hepatitis C cases in SGH. I have decided to appoint an independent Review Committee to provide added assurance that there is an objective and critical review of the internal findings by SGH.
"My thoughts are with the affected patients and families," he added.
The review will take about two months to complete.