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    Dec 10, 2015

    3-day deadline to report acute hep C cases: MOH

    THE Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday sent a reminder to hospitals, stressing that they must report acute hepatitis C cases within 72 hours.

    This came a day after the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) was criticised for not reporting its hepatitis C outbreak quickly enough.

    Meanwhile, experts said such incidents should be reported sooner rather than later, instead of hospitals waiting to finish their investigations or trying to solve the problem all by themselves.

    "MOH would like to remind all hospitals that acute hepatitis C is a notifiable disease under the Infectious Diseases Act. Notifications must be made within 72 hours," said the circular signed by Jeffery Cutter, director of the Communicable Diseases Division (CDD) on behalf of the Director of Medical Services.

    It also said that a separate notification has been sent to clinical laboratories.

    The call for quick reporting was echoed by others, too, including a member of the Independent Review Committee that examined the SGH outbreak.

    "When you have a sniff that there's an outbreak, maybe we should activate the new unit in the ministry (CDD) that deals with outbreaks so that we can get together, the ministry plus the hospital, draw in experts, draw in resources to understand what was the source of the outbreak and how to deal with it in a more expedient manner," said Lim Seng Gee, a senior consultant of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the National University Hospital, at a briefing on Tuesday.

    He had added that in the future, any hospitals facing such unusual outbreaks should draw on the Health Ministry's resources to deal with it.

    But would hospitals turn to MOH quickly enough?

    One health expert suggested since SingHealth and the National Healthcare Group had been formed, there was a slight disconnect between the ministry and the healthcare clusters - as most clinically trained staff had moved from MOH to these clusters.

    Healthcare consultant Jeremy Lim, former CEO of Fortis Hospital, who was also involved in making policy at MOH, said: "Ministries are typically designed as policy units rather than operators and the different knowledge and expertise might lead to governance challenges."

    Dr Lim added that moving forward, the episode could present an opportunity to strengthen the healthcare system to respond to future threats.

    Said infectious diseases physician Leong Hoe Nam: "For too long we have ignored infection control and, perhaps, even paid lip service to the dangers of infectious diseases spread.

    "We need to put more manpower and resources into infection control related work, to recognise, identify, notify and contain. Doctors who are infection control trained are already in short supply and there is high demand for them in Singapore."

    However, MP Koh Poh Koon (Ang Mo Kio), who was a colorectal surgeon before he entered politics this year, called for people not to overreact. What matters more to patients would be the hospitals' long term performance, he said.