Thu, Feb 27, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Cabinet moves to increase fines for malpractice

HEALTH CARE The Department of Health says medical blunders have cost too many lives and it's time now to take steps to protect patients

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Medical institutions causing serious medical blunders will see the maximum fine raised from NT$150,000 to NT$500,000 and have their operating license revoked or business shut down if draft amendments of the medical treatment law (醫療法) are approved by the legislature.

The draft, approved by the Executive Yuan yesterday, will proceed to the legislature for further review and final approval.

According to Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), director-general of the Department of Health, the amendments are designed to fortify the management of medical institutions and ensure patients' interests.

"It's necessary to amend the law because several people's health was jeopardized and lives were lost during the two most recent medical blunders that took place in Taipei County and Pingtung County," Twu said.

The mistake in Taipei County occurred last December when seven babies received injections with the wrong medication at the Peicheng Hospital for Women and Children (北城婦幼醫院) in Taipei County. One of the children died.

According to investigators, the hospital had placed the muscle relaxant Atracurium in the basket for hepatitis B vaccines without any signs noting the difference.

The foul-up in Pingtung County also took place in December last year. Nurses at the Love First Clinic (崇愛診所) administered the wrong medicines to over 120 patients and affected the health of 11 babies. One nine-month-old baby girl died.

The local health department later revoked the license of the clinic and fined the owner NT$150,000 for negligence.

Although the clinic's owner made a public apology, 13 families have filed lawsuits against the clinic.

After the two horrific errors, Premier Yu Shyi-kun asked the two local governments concerned to mete out the harshest punishments possible and requested the health department take the initiative to review medical regulations and make necessary revisions if the punishments stipulated in existing laws are too light.

Meanwhile, the Executive Yuan yesterday also approved the draft amendments of the National Health Insurance Law (健保法), which would allow underprivileged people who cannot pay their national health insurance premiums to either write off or delay paying outstanding premiums.

If approved by the legislature, it is estimated about 130,000 people would benefit from the change. The government, however, would lose an estimated NT$1.1 billion.

Another piece of draft legislation approved yesterday was the statute that governs the construction of urban sidewalks (市區道路條例).

The amendments are designed to regulate the height of storefront sidewalks in order to protect the safety of pedestrians and establish a "barrier-free" living environment for handicapped people.

Those unauthorized to construct uneven storefront sidewalks would receive a warning to make improvements. They would face a fine of between NT$5,000 and NT$25,000 if they fail to comply within two months.

The amendments would also regulate other public constructions such as bridges, tunnels, gutters, parking lots and traffic islands or meridians.

The fine for illegal structures is NT$6,000. To make the fines a more effective deterrent, those engaging in the unauthorized construction of a thoroughfare would face a fine of between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000.

Local governments would also be empowered to tear down the sidewalks and other public constructions if the owner, user or keeper refuse to comply.

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