Patients wary over subsidy scheme for cataract surgery

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2008, 12:00am

A programme offering patients waiting for cataract operations a HK$5,000 subsidy to have their cases handled privately has received a lukewarm response.

Only 800 out of 2,500 patients approached accepted invitations to take part in the scheme, which was set up because of the three-year wait at public hospitals.

An invited patient needs to pay a maximum of HK$8,000 for the surgery. Patients on welfare are exempt from payment, but only 50 of them have joined the programme in the past two months.

The Hospital Authority's director for cluster services, Cheung Wai-lun, said he was satisfied with the 30 per cent participation rate.

'The patients we have invited have been waiting for almost four years,' he said. 'It is natural that some of them would have already arranged the surgery by themselves in the private sector.'

He said some patients turned down the invitation because they felt they were too old to have the surgery.

Chow Pak-chin, president of the Hong Kong Association of Private Eye Surgeons, said the number of enrolled patients was less than he expected but he thought the authority's explanations were reasonable.

'I expected the response rate would be about 50 per cent,' Dr Chow said. 'But it is understandable that quite a lot of elderly could not be reached.'

He and Mr Cheung hope the rate will be about 40 per cent for the next group of patients.

The authority has just issued a second batch of invitation letters to 4,000 more patients who have been registered on the routine waiting list at the Hospital Authority. Those patients have been waiting between two years and eight months and three years and nine months.

Patients Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong said the low response rate showed that HK$8,000 was still too much for poor cataract patients.

'If the patients could afford HK$8,000, they would have paid HK$5,000 more to have their eye cured already.' Mr Pang also questioned the promotion of the programme and said some patients may have thought they needed to pay more than HK$8,000 to consult a private ophthalmologist.

He suggested the government review the programme before introducing any more operations between the Hospital Authority and private practice.

'The government wants to shift the patients' load from the public service to private practice. This result shows that patients might not consult private practitioners even if they are paid to,' he said.