Students at the University of Hong Kong expressed anger at authorities over the disclosure that equipment used on about 250 patients at the university’s dental clinic last week had not been properly sterilized.
“I think an apology for such a mistake should not be entertained, they have put the lives of people at risk,” said Kalpesh Narkhede, a postgraduate student in urban design. “The school authorities must sack whoever was responsible.”
Narkhede said he is not comfortable to visiting the university’s clinic because he will always remember this case.
Korean postgraduate student Jinso Lee worried that the university may have lower safety requirements at the clinic, which is free for students. “This is so sad and somehow annoying to hear this because, to me, someone was supposed to be responsible for sterilizing those instruments but failed to do his/[her] job,” Lee said.
Some students said they feared that the patients could be at risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis B and C after a nurse discovered on Friday that a key step in disinfecting instruments had been skipped for four days in a row at the dental clinic.
Michelle Wong, an arts student who had her teeth cleaned on Friday, said in a report by the South China Morning Post that she was worried. “This is unbelievable. I only had dental cleaning, not even something complicated like root canal treatment or removing wisdom teeth, but now they say I need a blood test,” she said. “I will not be using the dental service there for a while.”
The University Health Service (UHS) said it has contacted some of the affected patients by last Saturday to request they undergo a blood test.
“By this evening (Nov. 3), UHS has contacted more than 100 patients, 86 of them have done the blood test. UHS will continue to contact the other patients,” the department said in a statement.
“UHS has immediately consulted three experts of the HKU Microbiology Professor Yuen Kwok Yung and his team. Their initial opinion is that the instruments, having been disinfected by the first three procedures, the chance of bacteria and viruses left is extremely low,” the University Health Service said in a statement.
“However, it is necessary to invite the patients to have blood test to safeguard their health. Blood test for Hepatitis B, C and HIV has been arranged in UHS and four designated medical laboratories. Initial results will be ready in two days,” UHS said.
The department said blood tests for HIV and Hepatitis B and C are necessary for the patients who were treated at the clinic during the four-day period. Results will be released two days later, the department said in a statement.
Meanwhile, HKU has established an investigatory panel consisting of Deputy VC Professor Roland Chin, Professor Yuen Kwok Yung and Dr. Kitty Chan, Director of University Health Services, establish better safeguards at the clinic.
The Academic Staff Association and the HKU Employees Union, however, placed the blame on the administrators of the UHS and dental clinic rather than junior-level workers.
“We are very surprised why such a case could have happened and why it was only made known three and half days later,” the ASA and HKUEU said in a joint statement.
The groups said the university has in recent years lost experienced employees in the dental clinic and at the UHS and said it is important for the panel to evaluate health department administrators and supervisors, as well as funding and manpower for the UHS.
“We do not want to see a report from the investigation panel that would take a junior staff as scapegoat for closing this incident and leave behind all the management and resource problems and issues untouched,” the statement said. “In this regard, we strongly demand that representatives from each of the staff unions of the University should be included in the investigation panel.”
The HKU Students Union (HKUSU) welcomed the investigation panel and urged the committee not to hide the results of the panel’s investigations from the students.
The university needs to release the results of the students’ blood tests to students, their relatives and appropriate departments to ease anxieties, the student union said. The group added that provide any assistance to students and act as a voice for students to university authorities.
Earlier, the Union said it was “shocked to learn that an incident had happened to our UHS Dental Unit affecting some 250 members of the HKU community.”
The University has since reported the incident to the Government’s Centre of Health Protection.