Fees-abuse whistle-blower resigns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2006, 12:00am

Social worker says she was given poor appraisal reports and pressured to quit

A veteran social worker claims she came under pressure to resign after complaining about abuse of the medical fee waiver system.

The woman, giving her name only as Ms Cheng, was speaking a day after the Ombudsman said the Hospital Authority and Social Welfare Department had been too complacent in vetting applications for the waivers, 99 per cent of which were approved.

Ms Cheng, who has worked for the department since 1989, said she received poor appraisal results and was told to see a psychiatrist after she threatened to disclose the situation to the Ombudsman, legislators and the Audit Commission.

She found that one of her colleagues had waived the medical fees of someone whose income exceeded the limit on 'non-financial grounds' and reported the mistake to her supervisors in December 2004.

She said she was threatened with disciplinary action for causing embarrassment to the administration after she told her supervisors she would bring the case to the attention of other 'independent commissions'.

Ms Cheng filed her complaint with the Ombudsman in March last year.

'Since I disclosed the case to my supervisors, my colleagues treated me as a troublemaker and avoided me,' she said. 'My supervisors also gave me a lot of pressure, such as issuing a total of nine advisory letters over the year complaining about my work performance.

'I was even told by the head office to see a psychiatrist in June after my supervisors reported my 'poor work performance'. But the psychiatry report has found nothing wrong with my mental health.'

She said she had applied last year to take part of her 190 days of accumulated leave to 'stay away from all these pressures' but this was rejected.

'I finally made up my mind to submit my resignation in September. I no longer want to stay with this department, which is so bureaucratic and would only punish its workers who try to point out the flaws in its system,' she said.

Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union president Cheung Kwok-che said the department should change its bureaucratic culture in handling complaints from its workers.

The Social Welfare Department yesterday admitted that Ms Cheng had resigned in September, but said the employee did not give reasons for her resignation.

On an RTHK radio programme yesterday, assistant director of social welfare Sit Tung defended the action taken by his senior staff, saying it was proper for them to remind Ms Cheng of the Civil Service Regulations. 'We believe that it is inappropriate for the social worker to make the mistake public,' he said.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said the problem of abuse of the waiver system was not serious considering the Hospital Authority subsidises 97 per cent of medical costs.

'But we still have to look into the issue as the impact will be more significant after we adjust the medical fees in future,' he said.

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