New hospital chief warns of drastic fee rise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2002, 12:00am

The new Hospital Authority chief hinted yesterday that increases to medical fees in public hospitals will be more drastic than expected.

Dr Leong Che-hung warned that minor and piecemeal increases to charges could not relieve the heavy financial burden of the public sector.

Speaking on a Metro Finance radio programme, he said: 'We should not only look into fee changes to one or two items but we should look into the major principle. If we only charge [for] the accident and emergency services which are free, or slightly raise the inpatient medical fees, which are now $68 a day, we will not see the wood for the trees.

'We should look at the big picture and determine how the health-care policy should be carried out. Minor and piecemeal fee changes would bring only very limited relief to the authority's budget deficit.'

The authority recorded a $225 million budget deficit last financial year, its first. The figure is projected to rise to $580 million this financial year.

Dr Leung, who was appointed on Friday, stressed that priority for the heavily subsidised medical services should be given to the poor and those suffering from serious illnesses. 'Patients who can afford to pay more and suffer from minor ailments may shift to private doctors if they are subject to a longer waiting time or are no longer subsidised,' Dr Leong said.

He said the aim of any new fee structure was not to overcome the budget deficit but to encourage people who could afford it to pay their own medical bills instead of relying on taxpayers.

The Patients' Rights Association said major changes to fees would put the health of at least one million people, including the poor and elderly, at risk.

Dr Leong said he did not have any plans to scrap private care services in public hospitals.