“We’re Sorry!” Says Singaporean Portal for Irresponsible Reporting

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Singaporean news portal pulls offending article in the midst of controversy over allegations of Johor hospital’s negligence.

False reporting:

  • Response time of ambulance was 30 minutes, in reality, it was 13 minutes
  • Treatment only upon payment, in reality, immediate treatment without payment

Unverified reporting:

  • Brain surgery to be conducted by “medical officer” not surgeon
  • Ambulance could not use its siren for fear of getting a traffic summons

theindependent.sg portal has removed a controversial article alleging that the death of Singaporean hit-and-run victim Justinian Tan was the result of a Johor hospital’s negligence.

In place of the article is an apology with the title ‘We’re Sorry!’, following the Health Ministry’s statement yesterday that it will be writing to Singapore to express its dissatisfaction over the report and considering pursuing legal action.

“We unreservedly apologise to the parties concerned for the anguish and distress this incident has caused,” said the one-line apology.

The ambulance service providers and the hospital staff in Johor had come under fire from netizens following the Aug 31 article.

Unverified news reports on several Singaporean websites had suggested 25-year-old Justinian Tan had died after being involved in a hit-and-run car accident due to delayed treatment from the Johor Baru general hospital and that he could have been saved if he had received medical treatment earlier.

The original article, based on information provided by one of Tan’s friends named as Joshua, who was also involved in the Aug 25 accident, alleged that the ambulance took 30 minutes to arrive at the accident scene along Jalan Dato Abdullah Tahir in Taman Abad though the hospital was just a few kilometres away.

Hospital staff were also accused of demanding a deposit of RM2,700 before treating Tan and another friend injured in the accident as well as a further payment of RM1,350 to perform brain scans on Tan.

The Ministry of Health had denied the allegations, saying it was a baseless report.

On Friday, Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, referring to ambulance records, denied there was any delay or demand of payment before Tan was treated.

From computerised ambulance service records, Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the emergency call was made at 2.57am on Aug 25 and the ambulance left two minutes later and arrived at the scene at 3.10am, before leaving with the patient at 3.15am. Hence, it took 13 minutes from the time the emergency call was made to the time the ambulance arrived at the scene and not 30 minutes as had been alleged.

Dr Noor Hisham said Tan was admitted to the Red Zone upon arrival at the Emergency Department and Advanced Trauma Life Support protocol, which was already initiated by the ambulance team earlier, was followed.

The Emergency Department team also initiated the necessary imaging (primary survey X-rays, CT-scan of brain, cervical and thorax) treatment (including intubation).

The case was referred to the relevant team in a very timely and professional manner, without asking for any deposit since this was an emergency case, he said.

In view of the injury to his brain, Dr Noor Hisham said Tan was referred to the neurosurgery team and urgent decompressive craniectomy plus removal of clot and intracranial pressure monitoring were planned without demand for any deposit payment.

Joshua De Rozario

Subsequently, Tan’s family members arrived and were requested to make a deposit as per protocol for foreign patients.

“It is important to note that the emergency imaging and treatments required were not withheld or delayed.

“The ministry has always valued life and does its best to treat any patient, regardless of background or nationality,” Dr Noor Hisham said, adding that all parties should be responsible with reports and comments as releasing inaccurate information could lead to misunderstanding.

Joshua De Rozario, one of Tan’s friends, has since clarified his previous remarks, attributing it to possible “miscommunication” as the hospital staff spoke in Malay and “we had difficulties communicating”.

While maintaining that “it did feel like 30 minutes” for the ambulance to arrive at the accident scene, De Rozario said a lot of things were going on after the accident happened.

“There were quite a lot of people there and someone else called the ambulance.

“A lot of things were going on at once, so the wait for help to come felt really long then. I thought it took 30 minutes but their logs said differently,” De Rozario told The Straits Times.

Joshua De Rozario/Facebook

“We didn’t even know where he was at the time, but after we paid they told us to go to the red zone.

“Truth be told, I don’t know and I can’t comment on whether the hospital did all they could. I’m not medically trained and we had communication problems because we did not speak much Malay. So we thought it was better to bring him back. Perhaps there were things lost in translation,” he said.

We contacted the media in hopes that the guy who hit him will be found and made responsible.

“We also realised that in Malaysia we didn’t know what to do. Other people had to give us the embassy number and helped us in that situation. I’m saying all this not to attack the system there because I understand they operate differently and we might not have the privileges that we do in our own country.

“By speaking to the media, I want to make Singaporeans aware of the need to know emergency numbers, for example. So many of us go to JB just for supper or shopping and we don’t realise we don’t actually know what to do when something happens there. That’s the point we want to convey.

“It’s not about wanting to get revenge because that is not going to bring Justinian back. We want to close it and move on,” he added.

But Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said the allegations “are very serious as the Health Ministry has a principle that human life must be given the highest priority”.

In the Aug 25 incident, Tan and five friends, all primate schoolmates, had supper in Johor Baru after reuniting with two of the friends who had returned from their studies in Australia.

Joshua De Rozario

After the meal, they were walking to their car at about 3am when a Malaysian-registered Proton Saga collided into the group and sped off. The accident happened just a 15-minute drive from the Johore Baru customs complex.

Tan and another friend, insurance agent Brandon Thenerd Yeo, were reportedly hit from behind, with the former sustaining critical injuries and the latter breaking his left femur.

Brandon Thenerd Yeo/Facebook

He was at the Hospital Sultanah Aminah for about five hours before his family members arrived and opted for discharge at own risk (AOR discharge) and arranged admission to the Singapore General Hospital. The family understood and the doctors’ warned of the risks involved due to the severe brain injuries Tan had sustained and delaying surgery.

Tan was pronounced brain dead on Aug 28 and he died at about 12.30am on Aug 30 after being taken off life support. He was cremated on Sep 1.

Seah Kwang Peng/ST

A private accounting student at Kaplan Singapore, Tan was the second youngest of four children.

Yeo was discharged on Aug 29 and is in stable condition.

Other claims in unverified news reports included the Johor hospital staff saying the brain surgery on Tan would be performed by a “medical officer” instead of a surgeon and the ambulance ride from Johore Baru to Singapore took an hour and 15 minutes because its siren was not used as the emergency vehicle might be issued with a traffic summons.

On Saturday, the man who fatally hit Tan in the road accident and fled the scene was released on police bail. The suspect in his 30s was detained in Johor on Friday.

Johor Police chief Datuk Mohd Khalil Kader Mohd said the investigation on the case was still ongoing and would be completed soon.

“The car involved in the accident is still in our possession for further probe and the investigation paper will be handed over to the public prosecutor when it is ready,” Mohd Khalil said.