IBTimes UK

Singapore government took disciplinary action against 16 people in the healthcare sector for lapses that caused a hepatitis C outbreak in the country's largest hospital.

At least seven people had died and 20 infected with the deadly hepatitis C virus in an outbreak that spread panic last year.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement senior staff at the hospital were given disciplinary sanctions including stern warnings and unspecified financial penalties.

Four of the penalized staff are senior people holding director-level roles. Separately, the state-run Singapore General Hospital (SGH) said it punished 12 senior staff for the lapses in managing the outbreak.

According to the WHO, Hepatitis C spreads through unsafe injection practices, poor sterilization of medical equipment and unscreened blood transfusions. Hepatitis C is one of the causes of chronic liver cancer.

Following the outbreak last year the government had formed a panel headed by Peter Seah, chairman of SingHealth Board of Directors, to investigate the incident.

"The Hepatitis C outbreak was a tragedy that deeply affected and saddened all of us. What happened has been a hard lesson for SGH. The hospital will rectify the gaps to ensure that patients receive the best and safest care," said, Seah, whose panel recommended the disciplinary action.

"We will continue to emphasise patient safety as our highest priority. To this end, we will mobilise people, review systems and strengthen processes," he added.

The outbreak affected as many as 25 patients who were under treatment for kidney problems between March and August last year. Eight of the patients died, and seven of these deaths were linked to a hepatitis C infection.

The hospital authorities reported the outbreak in October. The investigation panel found that poor infection controls and failures in SGH's infection reporting protocol had a role in the spread of the outbreak.

In December, the Independent Review Committee (IRC) set up to investigate the outbreak reported that breaches in infection control caused the hepatitis C outbreak.