Diplomats demand inquest into hospital death

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Diplomats demand inquest into hospital death

The diplomatic corps in Korea has sent a strongly worded letter to the Korean government calling for an independent inquiry into the September death of the Thai ambassador’s wife at a Seoul hospital.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan last Thursday, Uzbek Ambassador Vitali Fen, who is dean of the diplomatic corps, lambasted Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital for unprofessionalism and medical negligence. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“On behalf of the Diplomatic Corps in the Republic of Korea, I wish to inform Your Excellency regarding the latest incident of malpractice, remissness and unprofessionalism at the Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital which resulted in the untimely demise of Mrs. Thitinart Satjipanon,” Fen wrote.

The letter also criticized the hospital for lacking English-speaking staff, which Fen attributed to delayed and improper medical care at the “so called International Clinic.”

Satjipanon, 53, wife of Thai Ambassador Chaiyong Satjipanon, died on Sept. 19 from acute intestinal obstruction at Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital, three days after she was hospitalized for a stomach ache.

According to hospital officials, doctors suggested she be hospitalized for three to four days for treatment, but she was transferred to the intensive care unit after she was unable to stand up before a scheduled X-ray examination. She died two days later.

The hospital said that Satjipanon was suffering from heart problems when she was admitted and developed symptoms that indicated septic shock, embolism and intestinal obstruction. An autopsy conducted in Thailand concluded that Satjipanon had died of intestinal obstruction, according to a person with knowledge of the event. Acute intestinal obstruction can be fatal without swift treatment.

The Thai Embassy in Korea filed suit against the hospital after the death, according to an embassy official. “The legal process of the suit is underway,” the official said.

The police are to summon several doctors at Soon Chun Hyang who treated Satjipanon for questioning this week, a hospital official said.

Fen’s letter also claimed that there had been previous reports of communication problems at the hospital, resulting in “wrong and undue treatments of patients from the diplomatic community.”

The hospital, located in Hannam-dong, central Seoul, where many embassies are located, is often frequented by foreign diplomatic personnel in Korea.

“According to my understanding, any international clinic should be equipped with English speaking staff,” the letter said. “However, the great disadvantage of communication was faced by the spouse of the Ambassador and has been reported by other members of the diplomatic corps as well.”

Fen said that medical standards at the hospital’s international clinic needed to be reviewed and improved to make it more foreigner-friendly and adhere to international standards.

One hospital official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, denied that their English skills were poor, though the official conceded that foreign patients could find communication at the hospital not as good as in hospitals in their home country.

“Our doctors speak English sufficiently to communicate with the patients,” the official said.

He also refuted the letter’s claim that the hospital was negligent in treating Satjipanon, saying that the hospital tried to give the patient the necessary treatment.

The letter went on to say that the incident raised doubts not only about the hospital but also about general medical services in Korea.

“The incident has caused serious concern and great alarm among the diplomatic corps which has put into doubt the medical facilities provided at the hospitals in your country,” Fen wrote.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade would not confirm whether the letter was received and declined to comment.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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