'Not for us to decide on QE hospital'
Joe Fernandez | Dec 4, 08 4:49pm
Two institutions and a professional body late yesterday broke their silence over the fate of the ‘unsafe’ and abandoned Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), once the pride of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.

The Sabah branches of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) and Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM) and state chapter of the Malaysian Institute of Architects (MIA) have adopted a joint stance on the matter.

Their respective heads, John Chee, Joe Chow and Sim Sie Hong, said in a statement that distinction should be made between the structural integrity of the QEH Tower Block and other issues.

Consulting engineers Ikram (Sabah) Sdn Bhd had been commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Public Works Department (PWD) to carry out a study, and had produced a three-volume report.

“Ikram carried out a thorough check and came out with a comprehensive report on its findings and recommendations,” the three branch heads noted.

“(But) without our participation in the on-site investigations and not having studied the final reports, we are not in a position to comment on their (Ikram’s) works directly as a institution or as a professional body.”

queen elizabeth hospital kota kinabalu 251008They said the PWD or ministry should be the ones to decide on the structural integrity of the building.

“The role of (our) institutions is to ensure that our professionals have taken the necessary steps and action in the course of their work. The decision and judgment of our professionals rest with the individuals (involved) and their views must be respected,” they said.

“However, if any party feels that they are not comfortable with the decision made by the professionals, they can always engage an independent specialist to (provide) a second opinion.”

The trio confirmed that they had been invited to a public forum - themed ‘Structural Safety of QEH Tower Block’ - on Monday when Ikram had delivered a presentation on the structural integrity of the building.

However, they said their attendance should not be taken as indicating that there are either in favour of or against any decision taken by the authorities on the future of QEH.

“We hope that our views are not misconstrued (to mean) that we are not concerned with public safety and interest. What we are implying is that the matter must be approached in the proper manner,” they said, without going into specifics.

The thrust of Ikram’s presentation was that the whole structure had been built with corrosive sea sand, which has high chloride content. Hence, the repair option would be a losing battle.

It also went through its appraisals and recommendations, the cost-benefit analysis in terms of the repair option versus the demolition option, and reconstruction on the same site, among others.

‘Pre-emptive measures’

Their statement followed a thinly-veiled warning by Ikram (Sabah) that it would not hesitate to institute legal action against any party which brings it or executive director Vincent Tan into disrepute over the QEH.

queen elizabeth hospital kota kinabaluTan had bristled at Kota Kinabalu MP Hiew Hing Cheu’s suggestion that the three professional bodies be allowed to take a closer look at Ikram’s various estimates including the cost of demolishing the Tower Block and reconstruction on the same site. This was cited at RM24.58 million, or RM820,000 more than the repair option.

“This actually implies that I am biased and corrupt and therefore need those groups to check the price. I am disgusted and will not hesitate to take legal action against the party concerned for ruining my reputation,” said Tan.

He reiterated that he has discharged his duties professionally and in accordance with the code of ethics.

The thrust of Tan’s arguments was that “we have to take pre-emptive measures instead of waiting for accidents to happen before taking appropriate action - the safety of all is of paramount importance”.

Tan reserved most of his wrath for Hiew, a mechanical engineer, who had poured cold water on the RM23.76 million repair works (not recommended) for the QEH.

“The comprehensive report was in front of (Hiew) during the forum but he never bothered to take a look at them,” claimed Tan.

“Neither did he ask me how I arrived at the cost for the repair option. Instead, he chose to make a political statement (after the forum) before leaving for Kuala Lumpur.

“He showed no concern for the safety of patients and hospital staff. Once a big chunk of concrete fell on an operating table but fortunately no one was hurt. I invited him to join the guided tour of the hospital after the forum so that he could see the structural defects for himself but he didn’t.”

‘No replacement yet’

The 10-storey QEH Tower Block was declared unsafe on Oct 23 by Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai based on detailed reports by Ikram and PWD. The decanting process took place immediately and the last patient was moved out of the building on Nov 14.

liow tiong lai and healthcare in malaysiaLiow (left) has since directed that the three volumes of the study be made public. These contain full details of tests carried out on the Tower Block.

“If the repair option is exercised, another RM 4.5 million at current prices would be needed in another 10 years, to re-appraise the building (for continued occupation),” warned Tan in the report.

“The building would need continued maintenance and would not be able to withstand vibrations and stresses including horizontal forces that may be introduced by earthquakes and other natural disasters.”

Hiew had told the forum that the majority of concerned professionals in Sabah are not in favour of the demolition of the QEH.

“We would support the demolition if the whole building was crumbling. The extent of damage is not at a critical stage yet. Only certain portions are structurally damaged and these can be salvaged,” he said.

“From the engineer’s point of view, the beams can be repaired. We need the building as there is no replacement as yet. The smaller single storey structures behind the Tower Block should be replaced with proper structures. Also, we would urge that the proposed Twin Tower Block on an adjacent site go ahead without any further delay.”

dr hiew king cheuHiew disputed Ikram’s figure of RM23.76 million to undertake structural repair work, alleging that the figure “may have been exaggerated since we don’t need that kind of money to repair partial damages”.

He said “all stakeholders should have a say since this is a matter of public interest”, making specific mention of ACEM, IEM and MIA.

“The government has money to buy the first SMC (Sabah Medical Centre), the second SMC and perhaps even the third SMC but no money to build a proper hospital for the state capital,” alleged Hiew on the sidelines of the forum.

“My mother once slept on the floor at QEH because there weren’t enough beds. I will have a word with (the) health minister Lai about the (hospital).”

There are lingering questions over the ministry’s purchase of the SMC which has since been turned into the Likas Hospital for Women. SMC went on to build a new hospital in Luyang, Kota Kinabalu.

After the evacuation of QEH, the ministry raised the possibility of buying the second SMC to replace the QEH but has had second thoughts after public expressions of unease over history repeating itself.

The first SMC, now the Likas Hospital, was built by Chief Minister Harris Salleh at only RM5 million, but changed hands at several multiples of this sum when the government took over the facility under a previous health minister.