We cannot give proper care, say doctors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am

Public clinic medics claim big workloads

Public clinic doctors say they are forced to provide 'second-class' care to patients because heavy workloads leave them with less than six minutes for each consultation.

Representatives of about 300 doctors working at outpatient clinics last week wrote to Hospital Authority chief executive Shane Solomon and chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk seeking more resources.

The doctors said they have only 5.6 minutes per consultation. They are demanding at least an average of eight minutes for each patient, a recommended consultation time for new cases by the College of Family Physicians.

A council member of the Public Doctors' Association, Michael Ho Hung-kwan, yesterday accused the authority of 'cheating the public'.

'The Hospital Authority always tells the public it wants to promote family medicine and holistic care. These are all slogans. In reality, doctors cannot provide such services.

'The 5.6 minutes estimate assumes doctors do not need to go to the toilet. In fact, we are allowed only two or three minutes in some cases,' Dr Ho said.

The authority took over 74 general outpatient clinics from the Department of Health in 2003. The clinic doctors said the authority failed to give them adequate support as they had to face increasingly complicated cases.

Many chronically ill patients with multiple diseases who used to be treated in specialist clinics are now referred to the general clinics.

'In a very typical case, one doctor has to see a patient with hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes or lung diseases. Five minutes is too short for us to ask patients questions and explain their disease, not to mention picking up any mood problems,' Dr Ho said.

Dr Ho, of the Central Kowloon Health Centre, said computerisation also meant doctors spent more time inputting medical records and prescription forms.

A Hospital Authority spokesman said the consultation time at general clinics had been increased from four to six minutes and part-time doctors would be hired to help at the busy clinics during the peak seasons.

The spokesman added they had also put in place measures to streamline clinic operations, such as computerisation of medical records.

Another association council member, Paul Shea Tat-ming, said some doctors feared it would be just a matter of time before the increased stress on doctors led to mistakes.

Dr Shea said the Hospital Authority had rejected the claims during a meeting on Tuesday.

It had said it did not see an increasing workload on individual doctors because the default rate at general clinics - the percentage of patients failing to turn up after making telephone appointments - had increased from 2 to 9 per cent.

Dr Ho said: 'We don't accept such an explanation. The authority only plays with the figures.'