Contest for private hospitals heats up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2012, 12:00am


A global health care company that runs 590 private clinics in the city is joining the fight to develop two new private hospitals.

While some potential investors say unprecedented restrictions imposed by the government on bidders are 'too harsh', Fortis Healthcare is interested in developing private hospitals at sites in Aberdeen and Tai Po.

The government wants more private operators to join the market to correct an imbalance that sees 90 per cent of patients use public hospitals while most doctors work privately. It has earmarked four sites for hospitals and last month began the tender process for two. Fortis is drafting its submission ahead of the July 27 deadline.

'There are challenges in every country, and we understand what is required in Hong Kong,' Malvinder Mohan Singh, executive chairman of Fortis Healthcare, which is behind the Quality Healthcare clinics, told the Post.

'Hong Kong always has a special meaning to us ... We have general practice clinics and day care service, and the private hospital is just the next logical step for us.

'Our interest has always been there, and our interest will not stop at only two sites.'

The health care group already runs 75 hospitals in Vietnam, Singapore and India, but is expected to face local competition. The private Union Hospital in Tai Wai has expressed interest in the site at Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen, while Chinese University hopes to develop a university hospital in Tai Po.

But the Private Hospitals Association says the fact that, for the first time, the government has set restrictions on services new private hospitals can offer could put investors off.

The winning bidder must set aside at least 50 per cent of available beds for Hongkongers, and also offer 30 per cent of treatments on a fixed-fee basis, so patients know exactly what they will pay in advance.

Singh says the latter condition 'would not be a difficulty at all', as hospitals internationally are moving towards more transparent billing, and the company is already setting fixed fees in India, the country where it was founded.

'In our service in India, we have created an internal system to tell in-patients what their costs [will be]. We tell them with 90 per cent certainty, plus or minus 5 per cent, what their cost of treatment will be. We are already doing it.'

The demanding terms of the tender are not the only case in the last few months of government intervention in the private health sector, something it had long been reluctant to do. Another prominent example was chief-executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's plan to set a 'zero quota' for mainland women who are not married to Hongkongers giving birth at private hospitals in the city, effectively banning them from doing so.

Asked whether he agreed with the owners of some private hospitals that the government was encroaching on the free market, Singh said: 'I do not know what the next government will do ... but I believe health care will be an important agenda for any administration in Hong Kong.

'Hong Kong has a very good health care system, and now we need more supply and facilities. From a micro perspective, I cannot see any change.'

With its headquarters in Singapore, Fortis also operates in Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Sri Lanka and Canada. It employs 23,000 staff, including 3,900 doctors worldwide.


Proportion of people living in Hong Kong who have no medical insurance, according to the Census and Statistics Department