Hong Kong hospital power disruption ‘likely caused by faulty automatic transfer switch’

A power disruption at a Hong Kong public hospital that forced operations to be postponed was likely to have been caused by a faulty automatic transfer switch in the electrical system, the Post has learned.

The incident earlier this week was among a spate of cases that prompted concerns from the Health Bureau on Friday, which instructed the Hospital Authority to submit a review and suggestions on how to improve.

The call for a review followed a power disruption at Kwong Wah Hospital in Mong Kok between 7pm to 7.50pm on Wednesday, with doctors forced to reschedule 23 operations and transfer an ongoing procedure to another operating theatre.

An initial investigation by the hospital found there was a malfunction in the control components of the uninterrupted power supply (UPS) system, which had been used as a third-tier backup power supply source.

A source told the Post on Friday that an automatic transfer switch, which determines the power supply source used by the operating theatres, had malfunctioned.

The operating theatres relied on a three-tier system, with power able to be sourced from the across the city, an emergency generator or the UPS, he said.

The source described the latter as a “huge battery” that could last for between 30 and 60 minutes.

“The three power sources are designed to be transferred through the same cable line, which is the same internationally, and a switch will decide which power source will be chosen,” he said. “This switch, which is included in the UPS, broke down.”

It was the first time such an incident had occurred at one of the city’s public hospitals, the source added.

The disruption occurred at a newly constructed addition to the hospital that opened last April. The building cost more than HK$10 billion (US$1.3 billion), marking the first phase in a major redevelopment effort.

The source said the malfunction could have been caused by factors such as a poor quality switch.

The Hospital Authority said on Thursday that while the two other power sources had been “functioning normally”, the hospital had opted to suspend operations at eight operating theatres as a precaution and allow for check up and repair works.

An authority spokesman told the Post that the affected elective surgery services had resumed on Friday.

Another insider familiar with the incident said the Hospital Authority has instructed French company Schneider Electric – the contractor responsible for installing the electricity supply system – to follow up and investigate the cause of the incident.

The authority had also sent a warning letter to principal contractor China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong), he said.

The disruption occurred at a newly constructed addition to the hospital that opened last April. Photo: Elson Li

Ho Wing-yip, a veteran electrical and building services engineer, agreed with the first source that the UPS design matched that of international systems, with the malfunctioning switch potentially caused by an inherent defect.

“The supplier will have to present a certificate to show that the switch complies with the required specification. They may arrange an accredited laboratory to conduct a third-party test,” he said.

Ho also said that cable trunking coating at the same hospital building had failed to meet thickness standards stated in the contract during a check last November, while some plywood was reported to be warped and bent.

“Does this reflect some issues in the management of the construction project or the standards of the inspection after the construction?” he asked.

The Health Bureau on Friday said it was “highly concerned” about a spate of incidents involving hospital facilities and patient care procedures.

Health official earlier launched an investigation into a case involving a 61-year-old patient’s feeding tube being mistakenly inserted into his airway and left undetected for more than a day, leaving him in a critical condition.

“I have written to the authority’s chairman to express my grave concern and instructed the authority to expeditiously follow up on the relevant incidents, and commence a comprehensive and independent review of the systemic problems at public hospitals,” health minister Lo Chung-mau said.

He said the review should cover areas such as the monitoring mechanism for compliance with medical procedures, staff appraisals, management accountability, the internal risk management system, emergency response measures, as well as communications.

“I have asked the [Hospital Authority] to conduct the review and submit a report within three months, including recommendations on improvement measures.”

The bureau will scrutinise the institutional and reform needs of the authority based on the report, he added.

In response, Hospital Authority chairman Henry Fan Hung-ling said it would carry out a comprehensive and independent review with the “most serious attitude” and come up with improvement measures to ensure patients’ safety.

Tony Ko Pat-sing, the authority’s chief executive, also said he understood the public’s attention over the recent spate of events and the body would review its responses, communications and arrangement of announcements regarding these incidents.

The authority would also adopt all feasible measures to strengthen its management to ensure residents’ confidence in public hospitals, he added.



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