Assurances sought on Hospital Authority plan to cut night surgery

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2007, 12:00am

Surgeons and patients' rights activists have called on the Hospital Authority to assure the public that the plan to restrict non-essential surgery after 10pm will not affect patient care.

The proposal, which will limit operations after 10pm to cases in which life, limb or sight is threatened, is among the dozens of recommendations made by the steering committee on doctors' work reform to cut down working hours.

The committee said the authority should bring doctors working hours to 65 a week within three years, and to cap their continuous working hours at 16 on weekdays and 24 on weekends and public holidays.

The committee said the authority should extend the hours operating theatres work during the daytime so that number of doctors on night duties can be reduced.

But vice-president of the College of Surgeons of Hong Kong Lo Chung-mau said the policy could endanger patients' care if the authority fails to expand daytime capacity to absorb operations which would have been done at night.

'No patients want to undergo an operation in the middle of the night and they may question if a doctor is fit to do so,' he said.

'But before it cuts operations at night, the authority has to tell the public clearly what extra resources will be put in to daytime surgery.'

Professor Lo, from the University of Hong Kong surgical team at the Queen Mary Hospital, said currently some patients suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder have their operations done at night.

'Sometimes we have to conduct the operations at 2am because we cannot find a slot in the next morning. In fact, these operations are not so urgent although we have to do it early enough. The standard is to do so in the first 72 hours [of the onset of the symptoms].

'If, in the future, doctors cannot conduct these operations after 10pm, we have to make sure there is an operation theatre slot the following morning. Otherwise, the patients have to wait for another full day.'

Patients' rights activist Tim Pang hung-cheong said the group was also concerned that patients may have to wait longer for their operations if night sessions were cut.

Hospital Authority chief executive Shane Solomon said yesterday that the reform was good for both doctors and patients.