Long-stay patients may lose allowances

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2005, 12:00am

Taxpayers' money is being wasted on people who treat hospitals like five-star hotels, say doctors

Long-stay patients in public hospitals will not receive disability allowances under a government proposal to cut abuses of expensive medical services.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said he was seeking ways of stopping unjustified stays in public hospitals. Some frontline doctors say taxpayers' money is being wasted on patients who treat the hospitals 'like five-star hotels'.

They say these patients are fit to be discharged but have become stuck in the hospital system after their families refuse to take them home. Some have been staying in hospitals for years where they enjoy free, round-the-clock nursing care, accommodation and three daily meals.

The Hospital Authority says it costs $3,118 a day to care for a patient, while patients only have to pay $100. Those on welfare payouts receive the services free.

Some long-stay patients are also receiving a non-means-tested disability allowance of up to $2,240 a month for physical disability or chronic illness.

Dr Chow said the government wanted to stop paying disability allowances to these patients during their hospital stays to avoid paying double benefits.

Another proposal being studied is to set up more 'half-way' homes for patients who have problems returning to their families. 'We should also give frontline doctors full back-up and authority to ask the families to take the patients home,' he said.

Dr Chow said doctors should better manage the expectations of the patients and their families in the early stage of admissions so that they realised that hospitals were not long-stay places.

The president of the Public Doctors Association, Paul Shea Tat-ming, said some patients were treating hospital services like a five-star hotel.

'They can enjoy 24-hour nursing care for free. Where [else] can they find such a good service?'

Dr Shea, also head of geriatrics at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the hospital's internal medicine department, for example, took about 100 admissions daily.

About 1 to 2 per cent of the total admissions ended up becoming long stays. 'Some patients have stayed there for six months to two years although they are fit to go home. I came across a patient in another hospital who had been there for six years.'

Dr Shea said doctors understood the difficulties facing these patients' families.

'Children of some elderly patients have to work and they cannot take care of the parents, and they are not confident in the services of homes for the elderly.

'Doctors are put in a difficult position; they cannot force patients to go. If the patients are kicked out and later have accidents at home or their conditions deteriorate because of lack of care, doctors may then be blamed for being insensitive or inhumane.'

Dr Shea said community services such as home helpers should be strengthened to care for these patients at home.