Five KTPH staff disciplined for breast cancer treatment error
Hospital has also apologised to affected patients and says it will compensate them accordingly
Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) has taken disciplinary action against five of its staff for their roles in an incident at its laboratory that resulted in some breast cancer patients receiving unnecessary treatment due to inaccurate test results.
The hospital yesterday also apologised to the affected patients and said it will compensate them.
"We have reached out to all affected patients to offer our support, and we give the assurance that we will look into the appropriate compensation for each individual patient," said Associate Professor Pek Wee Yang, who is chairman of the KTPH Medical Board.
"We would also like to seek their understanding and patience as this process will take some time to complete. In addition, we will provide psychological counselling to these patients, where needed, during this period."
The employees punished include those in management roles. The disciplinary action meted out ranged from stern warnings to financial penalties and cessation of employment.
Counselling, retraining and re-education are also being conducted for the staff involved.
In its statement, KTPH said the incident was caused by human error during the establishment of the staining procedure for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) tests.
The calibration error was not discovered due to a failure to conduct rigorous checks when the protocol was established, KTPH said.
This resulted in the overstaining of lab slides, which affected the interpretation of the results and led to a higher positive rate of HER2 than usual.
HER2-positive breast cancers are typically more aggressive than HER2-negative cancers. Some of the patients who were wrongly diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer received overtreatment as a result.
The investigation also revealed that the deviation in the HER2-positive rates compared with international benchmarks was noted early on during the laboratory's regular monitoring.
The section in charge of the tests conducted checks on the processes involved in interpreting the stained slides but attributed the deviation to differences in patient population. It did not recheck the accuracy of the staining protocol itself.
KTPH said staff from the section had failed to perform quality control checks properly.
The hospital added that these gaps contributed to the failure to detect the over-staining issue early, as well as in the subsequent years - from 2012 to last year - when the tests were conducted.
An internal review was conducted last year when the clinicians reviewing breast cancer cases noticed the higher-than-usual positive rate.
KTPH comes under the National Healthcare Group, whose review committee comprising experts in various disciplines from the healthcare industry conducted the investigation and made several recommendations to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring.