Specialists and surgeons start to feel the pinch

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 November, 2008, 12:00am

Private specialists and surgeons are starting to feel the effects of the financial crisis, with some complaining they are losing business as patients opt for cheaper public services or postpone non-urgent operations.

Private surgeon Chu Kin-wah said a number of specialists across the city had told him business had fallen by 10 to 40 per cent. The most affected areas were cosmetic surgery and Lasik eye surgery.

'Many surgeons are now not as busy and they are all finding it easier to book private beds or operating theatres,' Dr Chu said.

Louis Shih Tai-cho, a private dermatologist, said patients with minor skin complaints might now opt to see their family doctor instead of a specialist to save money. Specialist charges are about double those of general practitioners.

A specialist in Central, who did not wish to be named, said he had seen no new cases in the two weeks after the collapse of US bank Lehman Brothers on September 15.

'The situation then improved a bit. But overall, business has dropped by 10 per cent,' he said.

The specialist said three of his patients had requested a referral to public hospitals and two others had decided to see a family doctor instead.

He believed more patients would stop seeing private specialists within the next few months, when they received their appointments at public outpatient clinics.

Private surgeons were also losing some elderly patients to public hospitals because their children could no longer afford to pay for them to have expensive operations in private hospitals, the specialist said.

The bill for a major operation, such as the removal of a tumour, at a private hospital could cost more than HK$100,000. The same operation would cost only a few hundred dollars at a public hospital, where the day rate is HK$100 for the bed and surgical fees.

The financial crisis has, however, boosted the demand for psychiatric services. The Hospital Authority last week said it would boost mental health services after the number of people attending public psychiatric clinics in September jumped 13 per cent compared with last year.

Private psychiatrist Chiu Siu-ning said since the financial turmoil started, he had seen at least three bank workers who were upset by the poor performance of their investments.

'They either blame themselves or are being blamed by customers. They are suffering from a wide range of adjustment disorders such as depression, anxiety and insomnia.'

Dr Chiu said he had been treating one of these patients for depression but the crisis had seen his condition worsen.

Ernie Lo Chi-fung, chairman of the Frontline Doctors' Union which represents junior doctors in public hospitals, said if more patients did come over from the private sector, it might not have an obvious impact on the workload of public doctors.

'Public hospitals take care of 90 per cent of all patients in Hong Kong. So if the percentage goes up a bit, the increase may not be that obvious. Public doctors are stretched to the limit already,' Dr Lo said.