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Monday with the Editor: SARS and the gynae


Last Wednesday, a nurse from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) wrote in to the Forum page of The Straits Times to complain that her gynaecologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital did not want to see her when she arrived to keep an appointment with him. 

The nurse said that she was very upset and "felt discriminated against because I worked with TTSH." Apparently, her gynae had told her it was because of Sars that he wanted to protect his other patients. She went on to say that when some of her relatives avoided her, she understood that their fear arose either out of ignorance or inaccurate information.

But, she said she was appalled and shocked by "the fact that I was denied medical care by a highly trained specialist who fully understands the implications of Sars." She then quoted the Prime Minister as having said that "life could be lived as normally as possible" and added "perhaps that advice is meant for those who are not TTSH staff."

I disagree with this nurse's view that, in that instance, her gynaecologist had discriminated against her just because she worked at TTSH. On the contrary, I think the gynae did the right thing. I venture to add that because the specialist fully understood the implications of Sars, he was right to have refused to see her then. We are all adults and can take care of ourselves. However, we need to realise that there are yet-to-be-born children in the wombs of those would-be mothers frequenting the centre the nurse had visited.

I would have thought that the nurse who I am sure is trained to think of probable scenarios should have spared a thought for the other pregnant women visiting the centre and instead asked her gynae for advice before she stepped into the centre in the first place. Then, the whole ugly episode would not have taken place at all. The gynae, I am sure, would have made special arrangements to see her. 

Another reader of The Straits Times wrote in to the Forum page last Saturday to say he was "appalled at the behaviour of the gynaecologist in question." This reader continued, "The Health Minister has said that Tan Tock Seng Hospital is safe. Isn't it ironic that health-care professionals should be alarmed when a staff member from TTSH visits a clinic?"

Doesn't the reader realise that it wasn't just another clinic, but a specialist centre for pregnant women? There are two lives at risk here. Of course, we can always say the mother, being an adult, should be able to take care of herself, but what of the unborn foetus who is at a much higher risk?

The management of Parkway Group Healthcare,  which has responsibility for Mt Elizabeth Hospital, rightly replied last Saturday that "the decision as to whether to see a patient is left to the doctor." 

Much has been said about discriminations against TTSH staff and some of what is said are true. But, before we start quoting the PM's words, let us put things in the right perspective first.

I join others in support of the unsung heroes and heroines of the medical profession, particularly those at TTSH, battling Sars. But, alarm bells must continue to sound at specialist clinics for pregnant women when health-care workers and others known to be at a higher risk for Sars present themselves there. This is to alert doctors who may wish to take additional precautions. 

NEW WEB SITES is the official SARS Web site in Singapore. It pools together SARS-related information from all Singapore Government sites and presents it for various local and foreign audiences. It also contains the latest SARS-related press releases and selected media articles.

Click New Web sites for the rest of the list.

We are now 5357 pages thick and growing.

Public Holidays NATIONAL DAY is the next public holiday. It falls on Saturday 9 August 2003.



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26 May 2003

Singapore Time