Queue for surgery can take six years
Patients waiting to see a specialist in a public hospital can face a long battle, especially if they have an eye disease.
According to a frontline doctor at United Christian Hospital, patients can wait as long as six years for a cataract operation.
He says the hospital is currently conducting cataract operations on patients who had made their appointments four years ago. New cases are booked for operations six years ahead.
'The problem is very serious. The condition of the patients can get worse at any time over such a long period. They may develop acute glaucoma which can be much more dangerous and result in blindness,' he said.
The Hospital Authority plans to outsource cataract operations to the private sector to relieve the suffering of patients.
The authority conducts about 16,000 cataract operations a year, and 48,000 people are now waiting for an operation.
Last year 7.4 per cent of the 103,000 eye patients referred from specialist out-patient clinics had their first appointment with an ophthalmologist booked more than one year in advance. And 28 per cent of the new cases referred for surgery were assigned their first specialist consultation more than one year after the referral.
Meanwhile, those patients lucky enough to finally see a doctor usually must wait for hours in the clinic before they are seen. 'I have to see the cardiologist regularly. Every time I have to apply for a half-day leave from work because it usually takes two or three hours to queue up for the consultation,' said a 31-year-old patient who gave his surname as Leung.
Mr Leung said he was forced to wait for about one year before finally getting an appointment with the cardiologist.
At his first appointment, he was diagnosed with acute heart disease and told he needed an urgent operation, which was arranged a month later.
'It was lucky that I did not have a seizure during that year,' he said.
'I thought of visiting the private doctor, but the cost would have been very high.'