Threat of march over big rent rises for estate doctors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am

Thousands of patients and doctors would be mobilised to take to the streets if The Link Management ignored their protest against a rent rise, which was affecting 400 doctors, a concern group warned yesterday.

More than 10 doctors have been forced to retire after the rent rises were introduced, said former medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki, from the group Caring Hong Kong.

'Doctors at public-housing estates are family doctors. Some have been there for 40 years,' he said. 'Patients are now becoming orphans.'

He said the rent had risen from the lowest level of HK$15,000 a month to as much as HK$60,000. Only medical chains could afford the higher rent, forcing individual doctors to move to private shopping centres or to retire, he said.

If The Link refused to listen to their concerns, Kwok said they would launch a signature campaign at all estate clinics, and would mobilise doctors and patients to march on The Link Reit's headquarters.

Practising Estate Doctors' Association secretary Choi Wai-wan, who had a clinic at Hau Tak Estate, Tseung Kwan O, for more than a decade, said the rent had been increased three years ago from HK$12,000 to HK$17,000.

His clinic was forced to move from a convenient location in the shopping mall to a car-park building, where visitors rarely went.

Its size also shrank from 300 sq ft to 200 sq ft.

Choi said the number of patients had halved since the move, and added that The Link would increase the rent next May, when his three-year lease expired.

'I will leave if the rent reaches HK$30,000,' he said.

Mr Wong, 78, who had been living in Tsz Wan Shan for decades, said he now preferred going to public outpatient clinics if he was ill.

'In the past, private doctors only charged HK$60 to HK$70, with a discount for senior citizens. Now the clinics charges over HK$100,' he said.

Wong added that some clinics had now moved to the seventh floor in malls, which would be extremely inconvenient to the elderly and those who had difficulty walking.

Association vice-chairman Lee Fook-kay said the process of rent negotiation had became less transparent since last year when The Link replaced open tender with private negotiation.

The doctors urged The Link to carry out its corporate social responsibility because public-estate residents came from the lower-income group.

A spokesman for The Link said the average rent increase across all malls under its management was 25.2 per cent, but some doctors had had their rent cut.

'Rent renewals are based on discussions and negotiations between two parties and reflect customer demand,' he said.

The Link was moving doctors from their original shops because it was trying to centralise them in a single service zone, to improve convenience for customers and offer improved services, such as installing new toilets, he said.

The spokesman added that private negotiation was a common market practice for leasing shops across the city.

High price

Doctors are unhappy with The Link over rising rents

At least this many doctors have been forced into retirement since the increases were introduced: 10