Hospital shortfall could soar to $7b in four years, chief warns

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 12:00am

The Hospital Authority's accumulated deficit could reach $7.3 billion in four years, its chief executive, William Ho Shiu-wei, warned yesterday.

But he vowed this would not deter the authority from maintaining its quality service and efforts to boost staff morale.

Addressing the Hospital Authority Convention, Dr Ho said the public health budget had been shrinking since 2001, exacerbated by the Sars outbreak in 2003.

The gap had been widening 'between what is required and what is available', despite pay cuts and enhanced productivity programmes.

'And this is what we are facing if nothing major is done to reverse the situation,' he said, pointing to a chart showing $7.3 billion in accumulated deficits up to 2008-09.

'The management is walking a tightrope because of the need to [strike a] balance between falling staff morale and managing the budget deficit. That is why we think we have come to a stage where there is a limit to everything,' he said. 'The Hospital Authority board members also concurred that deficit or no deficit, we have to maintain staff morale and the stability of the organisation in terms of quality health care.'

To ensure job security, the authority would offer contract employment to 1,500 temporary staff this year, Dr Ho said.

'Throughout [recent] years, it was not only the authority but all other government departments that offered new staff temporary terms. Of course, that will lead to savings, but that will also lead to high turnover and poor staff morale,' he said.

'So the first thing we will do is to cut down on unnecessary temporary terms so that if staff are really valuable to the organisation, we will give them proper contracts.'

The authority will also get rid of the minimum seven-year requirement for resident trainees so that doctors can complete their training in six years, as required by many specialties.

Also speaking at the conference, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok listed eight elements for a sustainable health-care system.

These included a population that was knowledgeable about health, a health-care profession that considered health promotion a priority and a primary health-care system that could provide affordable community medicine.

Dr Chow also cited a hospital network providing emergency and secondary care within reach of people in all districts.