The Taipei City Physicians’ Disciplinary Committee has decided not to take disciplinary action against nine doctors at National Taiwan University Hospital who transplanted five organs from a donor with HIV last year, Taipei City’s Department of Health said yesterday, insisting that systemic flaws were to blame for the incident.
The nine doctors, led by Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the hospital’s intensive care unit chief and former director of the hospital’s organ transplant task force, transplanted the organs from an HIV-positive donor to five patients in August last year, putting the five recipients at high risk of contracting HIV and sparking public outrage over the case.
The committee, instructed by the Department of Health to launch a probe into the doctors’ responsibility for the case in accordance with the Physicians Act (醫師法), discussed the case on June 11 and decided the nine doctors did not violate the law, as they had no knowledge about the HIV-positive donor’s status at the time they performed the surgery.
Administrative flaws and human error were to blame for the incident, as most hospitals send a text message to the doctor or team in charge to inform them of such risks or results, but the hospital’s medical staff had failed to do so, the department’s chief secretary Jiang Yu-mei (姜郁美) said yesterday in explaining the committee’s decision.
“The Physicians Act states that doctors are liable to disciplinary action if they deliberately make serious or repeated mistakes. In this case, the doctors did not deliberately transplant HIV-infected organs, and they performed the surgeries following standard procedure,” she said.
In response to concerns about the doctors not being held accountable in the case, Jiang said the local prosecutors’ office has also launched an investigation into the incident to determine if the hospital or doctors were involved in administrative errors in the case.
Organ transplant coordinators, who were responsible for informing the transplant team of the organ test results, are also under investigation for allegedly informing the team that the organs had tested negative for HIV.
The hospital has been allowed to continue performing organ transplants while the investigation continues. However, the Department of Health investigative report suggested that the hospital needed to enforce training for organ transplant and donation teams and strengthen team cooperation.
So far, none of the five organ recipients or transplant team members has tested HIV-positive.
Jiang said that if any of the five recipients offered new evidence against the doctors, the committee would launch a new probe into the case.