Equitable allocation of health-care resources essential

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 August, 2002, 12:00am

Your report headlined 'Life-saving liver goes to waste' (South China Morning Post, August 9) on liver transplants in Hong Kong, has highlighted, yet again, a very important issue - how society should set its priorities.

While I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the liver transplant teams in the two universities in Hong Kong, I believe our society as a whole must decide to what extent taxpayers are willing to fund such expensive procedures, at $1 million per operation.

At the moment each university is funded for 12 procedures a year. In the event that there are more than 24 donors in any one year there will be a wastage of donor livers. The only way to eliminate wastage altogether is to transplant every single available donor liver. But are we prepared to fund an unlimited number of such procedures as long as donor livers are available?

It is a hard fact of life that, with finite resources, no nation can afford the best of medical care for all of its people (especially not at $68 a day, which is what the Hospital Authority is charging). If we allocate too many resources to one area of health-care, other areas will inevitably suffer, unless we have unlimited resources.

If we think that liver transplants are important, what about, for example, kidney dialysis, kidney transplants, and emergency 24-hour cardiac services?

Society has to draw a line somewhere. While it is inevitable that this line has to be arbitrary, to a certain extent the government has the responsibility to introduce a system whereby the allocation of resources is fair and equitable. This process must be transparent and openly discussed.

The worst thing we can do is respond with a knee-jerk reaction, basing our decisions on sensational media reports.