'Put minister at head of Hospital Authority'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:00am

A former chairman says health chief should chair the board to increase efficiency

The Hospital Authority should be chaired by the health minister so government health policies can be better implemented, says a former chairman of the body.

Lo Ka-shui said the government should review its relations with the authority, which was set up in 1990 to run public hospitals independently. Dr Lo, who was the authority's chairman from 2000 to 2002, said having the secretary for health, welfare and food chair the authority's board would increase efficiency and make the line of command clearer.

Replacements are being sought for health minister Yeoh Eng-kiong and authority chairman Leong Che-hung, who both quit last month after the Legislative Council released an inquiry report highly critical of the handling of last year's Sars outbreak.

'At present, the health minister has to talk to the chairman and then the chairman has to talk to the board. And it takes time for the board to get back to the minister.

'If the health minister is also the board chairman, then he can have the policies implemented straight down to the authority,' Dr Lo said.

He recommended that the authority's board structure should be retained to allow community participation in policymaking.

It is understood that while in office, Dr Lo differed with Dr Yeoh over policies on medical charges and the promotion of Chinese medicine.

Dr Yeoh was widely regarded as a socialist who was in favour of a big government role in health services, while Dr Lo was a strong advocate of market forces and the user-pays principle.

Dr Lo, a cardiologist who is also deputy chairman of property company Great Eagle Holdings, denied he was a candidate to take over as health minister. 'I am not interested. I don't have the time and I have not been approached by anyone about it,' he said. 'More importantly, I don't think I am qualified to do that job. A health minister is very much a political job and I am not good at politics.'

Leung Ka-lau, a member of the council of the Public Doctors' Association, said it would not make much difference who chaired the authority. 'For a long time, and even during the Sars outbreak, the authority board has failed to play any important function. It seems more like an advisory body than a governing board,' he said.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, professor in public administration at the City University of Hong Kong, said having the health chief head the authority would go against the philosophy of an independent public body running public hospitals.

'Unless we have a review and find that setting up the authority has been a total failure, I think it is too big a change.'