Hospitals move to cut wait periods

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2007, 12:00am

Patients to be told about private services

Public hospitals are hoping to reduce long waiting times for patients with measures that include giving patients information on private medical services and designing standard referral forms for some common diseases.

The Hospital Authority announced last week that it had formed a taskforce to cut waiting times, as the latest figures showed some patients were forced to wait more than three years for their first consultation at public specialists' clinics.

Figures presented to Legco last week showed there were more than 674,000 new cases in which patients sought consultation appointments at public hospitals.

Of those, 68,111 had to wait between one and two years, 11,079 had to wait two to three years, and 706 more than three years. Most were surgical and orthopaedic cases.

Now, individual hospitals are looking for ways to shorten the long queues. At the Kowloon East cluster, for example, a working group is finding ways to take care of patients during their wait.

The cluster, which runs the United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong - popular with mainland mothers - Tseung Kwan O Hospital and the Haven of Hope Hospital, covers a population of about 950,000.

The cluster's chief executive, Luk Che-chung, said training general practitioners to inform patients about private services was one step being taken.

About one-third of patients waiting for specialist care are referred by public general outpatient clinics or emergency rooms.

Dr Luk said frontline doctors could advise patients to undergo some diagnostic tests that would help them receive earlier treatment.

'Many referrals that come to us are quite vague. If there is a test such as CT scan or MRI which can tell our doctors the diagnosis, we can then give the patient earlier treatment,' Dr Luk said.

'Our hospitals are very busy. There are more than 1,000 new cases at the United Christian Hospital's surgery clinic every month. We cannot just let these patients wait for two or three years and do nothing.'

Dr Luk said patients with urgent conditions could see doctors within two weeks, while those with semi-urgent conditions had to wait about eight weeks. Other patients, accounting for half the total attendance of the cluster's specialist out-patient clinics, had to wait up to three years for their first appointment.

The Kowloon East working group is also designing standard referral letters for doctors regarding some common diseases.

Dr Luk said the cluster planned to identify the 'top 10' common illnesses for referral and design standard referral letters.

A spokesman for the Patients' Rights Association, Tim Pang Hung-cheong, said it was of no use for public doctors to tell patients to go to private services.

'It will only be useful to those who can afford it. Perhaps the government should consider some subsidies,' he said.