Public hospital to sell services of private CT scanner

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 May, 2010, 12:00am

A community public hospital will buy a private CT scanner and sell public patients scanning services in the first public-private partnership of its kind.

Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital in Wong Tai Sin has been complaining of a lack of resources and modern medical equipment that has left it 'substandard' for the population of 430,000 in the area it serves.

The South China Morning Post reported last year that unlike other acute hospitals in Hong Kong, the 230-bed hospital does not have a computerised tomography (CT) scanner or 24-hour X-ray services.

That makes it hard to treat patients with strokes or breathing difficulties - two common conditions among the ageing population. The Hospital Authority acknowledges Our Lady of Maryknoll's need for a CT scanner but says it is not a priority.

However, authority chief executive Shane Solomon said the hospital would pioneer a public-private partnership in diagnostic scanning. The authority plans to buy a guaranteed volume of such services from hospitals to serve its public patients.

Our Lady of Maryknoll chief executive Dr Wong Tak-cheung said the governing board would apply for HK$12 million in funding from the Jockey Club to buy a CT scanner, which the hospital hopes will be available by the end of the year.

'It will be a new model aimed at providing services below market prices to private patients and also cutting the waiting time for a scan for public patients,' he said.

Wong said a CT scanner was basic medical equipment for an acute hospital. The hospital now has to send patients to Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei for CT scans.

At some public hospitals, a shortage of staff to man the sophisticated diagnostic imaging machines is one cause of long waiting times.

The authority is trying to cut the long waits for MRI and CT scans but has had difficulty finding enough experienced staff, including radiologists and radiographers. Solomon said public hospitals were losing expertise in the lucrative imaging services to private hospitals.

At United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong, for example, the organ imaging team is seeking extra staff to extend the hours of its MRI services.

The median waiting time for an MRI scan for a routine case at the hospital is about a year and is more than two years for some mild cases.

Dr James Chan Chi-sang, United Christian Hospital's chief of radiology and organ imaging, said patients suspected of having cancer were given priority and could have an MRI scan done within four weeks.

The hospital has only one team manning its MRI scanner, meaning the machine can run only 39 hours a week. On each shift, there are two radiologists, two radiographers, one nurse and one member of the supporting staff.

Chan said the hospital wanted to obtain extra funding this year to add at least half a shift, so as to extend the operating time of the MRI scanner.

Meanwhile, United Christian's only CT scanner is running 24 hours a day. The hospital plans to buy another one in December.

Chan said the demand for medical technology was growing fast.

'Doctors now rely more and more on these images. Even after they have made a diagnosis on clinical presentation [of symptoms], they rely very much on scans to understand the magnitude of problems, like the size of a tumour and the location, for surgery and treatment,' Chan said.

'As more cancer patients have a higher chance of survival, the demand for regular follow-up scans is also increasing,' he said.

This year, the authority will add a new MRI scanner for Tuen Mun Hospital, a new CT scanner for Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital and another CT scanner for United Christian Hospital.

Over the next five years, the authority plans to buy three CT scanners, at about HK$10 million each, and two MRI scanners.