KUALA LUMPUR, August 20 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed that it declassified on October 15, 2019, an independent inquiry’s findings on the fatal 2016 Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) fire.
MOH said in a written Parliament reply on August 13 to Johor Baru MP Akmal Nasir that the status of the report — which had been classified a state secret under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972 — was reclassified as “open” on that date as preparation to publish the inquiry findings for the public. The Health Minister then was Dzulkefly Ahmad.
This action was taken after the Cabinet, under the then-Pakatan Harapan administration, decided on October 2, 2019, that MOH was to publish the findings of the independent investigation headed by former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Hishamudin Yunus into the October 25, 2016 blaze at the Johor Baru public hospital that killed six patients, the deadliest hospital fire in Malaysian history.
“However, in December 2019, the family of one of the victims of the fire filed a civil suit against the government,” MOH told Akmal, who had urged the government to table the independent committee’s report in Parliament.
The parents of the late 24-year-old Neeramaladevi Chandran — Chanthiran Palanisamy and Rajaswari Ramalingam — had actually filed a civil lawsuit on October 24, 2019, against the HSA director, the Johor state health director, and the Malaysian government at the Sessions Court in Johor Baru, Johor, claiming negligence of patient safety. The director of the MOH hospital and the government have denied negligence in their defence filed in court last January 12.
“In line with that, the recommendation to reveal the Report of the Independent Committee to Investigate the Fire Incident at HSA, Johor Bahru, to the public was delayed, taking into account the risk of sub judice and the possibility of action being taken for contempt of court because of comments on matters, the case, or issues being discussed in court,” said MOH.
The inquiry’s findings — which were reported by CodeBlue in a series of four articles in March this year — revealed that HSA did not have a fire certificate, besides alleging that “one of the underlying causes that led to the deaths of patients and injuries to a patient and several staff of the South ICU was the lack of preparedness on the part of the hospital management and staff”.
The inquiry found that none of the South ICU (intensive care unit) staff had undergone training in fire drills or emergency evacuation, despite four previous fire outbreaks in the South ICU in 2008, 2010, and May and October 14, 2016 before the October 25 blaze in that same ward. The inquiry’s proceedings conducted in 2017 were not open to the public.
“On the suggestion to drop investigations against Boo Su-Lyn, a journalist of a health portal, this is under the jurisdiction of other agencies and the Ministry of Health will not intervene in investigations against the journalist.
“Therefore, the agency in charge of the investigation must conduct their duties according to the law.”
Police questioned Boo, who is CodeBlue co-founder and editor-in-chief, last June 26 in an investigation under the Penal Code and the OSA. Two days later, HSA caught fire again — this time at another building instead of the main building where the 2016 blaze occurred. No casualties were recorded.
HSA still does not have a fire certificate, with the Johor Fire and Rescue Department director telling the press last August 3 that the fire certificate applications by HSA and two other government hospitals in the state are expected to be completed by next year.