JOHOR BARU, Dec 12 – Declassifying the investigation of the fire at Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) could deter further legal action by victims’ families, former Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Milton Lum said.
This follows a recent civil lawsuit by the family of one of the victims of the fire that accused the public hospital and the government of negligence in ensuring the safety of patients.
Parents of the late 24-year-old Neeramaladevi Chandran — Chanthiran Palanisamy and Rajaswari Ramalingam — named the HSA director, the Johor state health director, and the Malaysian government as defendants in their lawsuit that was filed at the Sessions Court here last October 24.
Neeramaladevi’s family took legal action three years after the fire at the Ministry of Health (MOH) hospital in Johor Baru on October 25, 2016, killed her and five other patients.
“The lawsuit is not surprising. The release of the report would perhaps mitigate future lawsuits or any grievances of the victims’ families against those involved,” Dr Lum told CodeBlue.
“There is no reason to hold the report. It has nothing to do with national security and was promised to be released long ago. Releasing it may also give the families of the deceased some closure in losing their loved ones.”
Various high-profile calls have been made to declassify the report in the past three years, even from the reign of Barisan Nasional (BN) to the leadership of Pakatan Harapan (PH) now.
Following the incident, an independent committee chaired by former Court of Appeal judge, Mohd Hishamudin Yunus was appointed to investigate the fire.
Hishamudin has made repeated calls for public disclosure of his committee’s investigation report which made 23 recommendations. In a recent interview with CodeBlue, he reiterated the investigating committee’s calls for the inquiry report to be made public and debated in a parliamentary select committee.
The G25 group of retired high-ranking civil servants also previously said that the committee investigating the HSA fire had found serious weaknesses in budgetary allocations and operating procedures related to safety measures and administrative responsibility, besides breaches of various laws.
After immense pressure, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad finally announced that the Cabinet will disclose the investigation by the end of December.
Dr Lum also opined that releasing the report can help other hospitals refer to it to ensure the safety of their patients and staff.
“If released, I am quite sure the report will help other hospitals to not only look at structural modification, but also organisational modification in order to avoid further occurrence [of mishaps],” he added.
In March 2017, a few months after the fire, Parliament was informed that the Health Ministry carried out fire safety audits, with the Fire and Rescue, and Public Works departments, in 46 public hospitals more than 50 years old.
“Among several fire risks identified were aging fire prevention systems, dilapidated electrical wiring and installation systems, the installation of medical gas systems which were not according to required standards, and other discoveries which needed engineering systems to be upgraded,” former Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya said to Parliament.
“A large number of the hospitals were fire hazards and in need of an overhaul, upgrade and repair to be carried out to ensure the hospitals are safe and did not affect its daily operations.”