A hospital in the New Territories has said that human error was to blame after admitting that doctors used incorrect reference values on equipment used to check protein levels in bones and livers.

The reference ranges for male and female patients over the age of 60 were switched on a device used to measure alkaline phosphatase (ALP) levels in patients’ liver and bones, according to officials.

Officials said on Wednesday that only the reference ranges displayed by the machines was incorrect, not the patients’ readings.

Doctors explained to press that the new equipment was set up in August 2013 and the mistake was only discovered and corrected on July 6 this year.

They added that the incident had minimal effect on the diagnoses and treatment of patients who were tested by the device. They also said there was nothing that suggested the incorrect reference range led to any patients’ death.

Photo: Wikimedia.

More than 9,000 people had potentially been affected by the blunder at Tuen Mun hospital, 1,400 of those who were tested by the device died of various causes.

ALP is a protein found in all body tissues, however there are higher amounts of it in the liver and bones. The normal ALP range is 44 to 147 international units per litre (IU/L), however this can vary with age and gender; for a male over 60 years-old the range is 56 to 119 and for a female over 60 years-old it is 53 to 141.

The Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said he was concerned  about the blunder and confirmed that he has asked the Hospital Authority to investigate the incident and follow up on the conditions of patients who may have been affected.

He said: “It is of utmost importance that installation of all medical equipment and facilities should be properly monitored for the safety of patients.”

“We apologise to the patients concerned and there is also a need for the HA to review relevant procedures and guidelines in order to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents.”

Updated at 09:33.

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Vicky Wong

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.