A Tainan-based university hospital could have broken the law if allegations it allowed a sophomore medical student to suture a patient’s chest wound following surgery are found to be true, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) said Tuesday.
The controversy arose after local media reported earlier Tuesday that National Cheng Kung University Hospital contravened the Physicians’ Act and the Medical Care Act by permitting a sophomore student from the university’s School of Medicine to suture a patient in the Department of Thoracic Medicine.
The news attracted widespread public attention with many asking how an unlicensed medical student was allowed to stitch up a patient’s wound in an operating room, even if done under the supervision of an attending physician.
MOHW Department of Medical Affairs Director-General Liu Yueh-ping (劉越萍) told CNA that “usually only fifth or sixth-year medical students are permitted to enter the operating theater, where they are allowed to stitch up patients under the supervision of a surgeon.”
“It is impossible that a second-year medical student who is still learning basic theory and who has not gained enough knowledge about infection control could conduct surgery in an operating theater. It would create a higher risk of infection for patients.”
“The case could well violate the Physicians’ Act and the Medical Care Act,” Liu said, adding that the incident has been referred to the city’s Public Health Bureau for further investigation.
According to Liu, it is imperative to determine whether the patient was made aware of what would happen and whether the student performed the surgery as part of a training program, before concluding if the hospital is legally liable.
In response, the hospital said in a statement issued later on Tuesday that the student was allowed to perform surgical sutures in the operating theater as part of an arrangement by clinical teaching professors for a study program that seeks to familiarize students with clinical medical care.
Citing the attending physician who instructed him, the statement said the student has been learning clinical medical care techniques for a year. It noted that the student spent his summer break in the surgery department, where he learned to serve as a qualified assistant under the instruction of an attending physician, the head nurse and other nurses.
During the surgical procedure, the student was third assistant in the operating theater and performed his duties under the direction of the surgeon, the statement said.
The operation was performed by the surgeon and the student stitched up the patient under the direct supervision of the surgeon, it stressed. Media reports that the student performed the operation instead of the surgeon were untrue, it noted.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel