The Ministry of Health (MOH) will disburse an ex gratia payment to the family of the late Fong Meng Tuck, whose body was wrongly released to another family for cremation by the Forensic Department of Penang Hospital last year.

“We regret the error and admitted our mistake at the hospital,” said Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya, revealing that the Health Ministry is aware of the matter and is discussing on the amount of compensation to be given.

Non-compliance to SOP led to unfortunate mix-up

Last November, 60-year-old Fong passed away in a road accident and his body was sent for a post-mortem at the Penang Hospital. The unfortunate mix-up was only realised, when Fong’s family members arrived at the mortuary to claim his body for funeral processions, only to be told by the hospital that his body had already been claimed by another party.

“We went to the Penang Hospital mortuary at about 2pm on Monday. After signing the ‘body release form’, the hospital told us that my father’s body wasn’t at the mortuary," said Edward, Fong’s 28-year-old son, at the time.

It was reported that the hospital staff had mixed up the bodies of Fong and another man, Ho Swee Kim, who had died of a heart attack. This led to the Forensic Department wrongly handing over Fong’s body to Ho’s family for cremation.

"This incident happened as the staff did not follow the standard operating procedure for body claims, and had allegedly passed on Meng Tuck's body to a representative of a funeral services provider, without confirming the identity of the body," said Lim Thoon Deong, the chairman of Penang Hospital Visitors Board.

The hospital staff involved in the incident has since been suspended under grounds of violating the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of Forensic Medicine Service.

Compensation to be paid by Health Ministry

The deceased’s three children provided blood samples to the Penang Hospital to facilitate in DNA testing of the ashes to determine if the remains were that of their father’s.  A DNA test conducted by the Chemistry Department reported a 99.9% match to the samples, and the police authorities later confirmed that the body was handed over to the wrong party.  

“Police had made a statement on the matter that the cremated body belonged to the Fong family,” said Hilmi. “We accepted the police statement and we are negotiating on an ex gratia compensation with the family.” MIMS

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