Ministry says doctor unfairly punished in dialysis deaths case

By Le Nga    May 12, 2019 | 12:00 pm GMT+7
Ministry says doctor unfairly punished in dialysis deaths case
Doctor Hoang Cong Luong. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du
The Health Ministry says the way the case of nine dialysis deaths has been dealt with will undermine healthcare in Vietnam.

It said the charges levied on a doctor involved in lapses in dialysis procedures that killed nine patients back in 2017, shocking the nation, was "not right".

In a Friday document sent to the People's Court and People's Procuracy of Hoa Binh Province, the ministry said the charge was "forced, not suitable, and even unjust."

Doctor Hoang Cong Luong, 33, was charged with "involuntary manslaughter" in the healthcare disaster deemed the nation's most serious in years.

At the court of first instance in Hoa Binh, Luong, a nephrologist with the Hoa Binh Province General Hospital, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for his inaction leading to the series of deaths in 2017.

The verdict said that although Luong was not responsible for the water used in the process, he should have been aware of the importance of the water filter system for dialysis. He did not check if the system was ready to use though he knew repair work was being done.

The court said Luong had been "negligent, confident in his own experience and performed duty out of habit."

Yet the ministry says that the investigators, Hoa Binh police, had changed the charges against doctor Luong as many as three times, which means they were confused and did not have sufficient evidence to press charge.

"It is inappropriate to punish doctor Luong for ‘involuntary manslaughter' because the elements are not there to constitute a crime," the ministry's statement reads.

In case the appeals court, which will hear the plea Monday, sticks with the original decision, "it would set an extremely dangerous precedent, causing insecurity among all doctors and medical staff in the country," the ministry said.

"This case will prevent doctors from directly engaging in treating patients and focus more on administrative procedures, which means they will spend more time on non-professional jobs instead of dedicating their time and efforts for saving people.

"If that happens, it is the patients that will take all the consequences. They will die, and die in line with procedures and regulations, and no legal agencies will be able to question the doctors and other medical staff."

The ministry suggested that the case at Hoa Binh hospital is a serious and complicated medical accident and the investigators should be careful and identify the true cause for the deaths.

Hoa Binh hospital, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Hanoi, was in the national limelight for long after the dialysis disaster on May 29, 2017. Nine patients died after suffering nausea, abdominal pain and shortness of breath.

Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien quickly pronounced the incident the "most serious" healthcare disaster in Vietnam in many years.

Talking to the press after the trial in January, doctor Luong said he was shocked with the verdict and that it was too harsh.

"I will appeal against the conviction at all costs because I’m innocent," he said.

Public opinion was also mixed. While many said the verdict serves as a lesson for healthcare staff in Vietnam to work with due care, others said Luong was only part of faulty healthcare procedures and should not be punished so harshly.

Along with Luong, four hospital staff, including its director and deputy director, and two companies' directors responsible for cleaning the water filter system for the hospital's dialysis machine, received between two and a half years and four and a half years in jail.

All defendants were also suspended from their positions.

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