Hospitals chief presses case for 24-hour clinics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2007, 12:00am

Community medical centre urged for every district

Every district should have a 24-hour community clinic to take the pressure off emergency rooms, the chairman of the Hospital Authority, Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, said yesterday.

The idea raised questions in medical circles as to whether the authority plans to extend its reach into areas covered by the private sector.

Mr Wu said the community clinics could be a model for public and private co-operation. 'These clinics can be manned by both public and private doctors, so patients have a choice. Serious cases will be referred to the emergency rooms.'

A document that the Health and Medical Development Advisory Committee released in July 2005 also called for, among other measures, 24-hour community clinics for patients with acute conditions. It envisions that every family or resident of Hong Kong should be under continuous care of a named doctor of their choice, usually near their homes.

It plans to release another consultation document later this year on financing models, but the government said it had no timetable for the reforms.

Mr Wu said community clinics could provide after-hours services to patients so they did not need to go to public emergency rooms and wait hours for minor ailments.

Medical Association president Choi Kin said that if the authority ran the 24-hour clinics, it would interfere with the normal market. 'On the one hand they say they do not have enough doctors in the hospitals. On the other hand they want to do 24-hour [clinics], so they will stretch their manpower even further.'

The private sector would also not be happy as it would mean the scope of the authority's service would extend to areas where it was not needed, Dr Choi said. He also questioned whether there was a need for each district to have a 24-hour clinic. Health management organisations already run several clinics.

Mong Kok, Jordan and Kwun Tong had 24-hour clinics as they were densely populated and had late-night workers, but districts such as Central would not have the patients to make them viable, he said.

The health spokesman for the League of Social Democrats, Lo Wing-lok, said 24-hour clinics would be convenient, 'but whether it is the most cost-effective means to provide health care remains to be discussed'.

Dr Lo said that if each family already had a family doctor, the demand for 24-hour clinics would not be high. He said the authority should plan the clinics in the context of the services available.

'If there is no integration, if this is the Hospital Authority opening these facilities regardless of what is happening in the community, that could result in duplication, low efficiency and waste of public money,' said Dr Lo, a former legislator.

A source close to the Hospital Authority said the clinics were far from being set up. 'It needs very thorough discussion, resource allocation and public debate.'