Health care crisis needs planned solutions, not piecemeal fixes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am

I refer to the comments made by Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok after his visit to hospitals ('Health officials visit hospitals amid threat of doctors' strike', March 1).

It is disheartening to keep reading about the woes of the doctors and nurses in newspapers - but more so to read about the so-called solutions proposed by the Hospital Authority for the crisis at hand.

I cannot understand how and why time and again those in authority close the barn door only after the horse has bolted.

This resource crisis has been brewing for a long time.

While band-aids (like enhancing career paths, paying more and employing part-time and retired doctors) no doubt help in the short term, they are blatantly inadequate.

What we really need is to urgently review the whole human resources approach to the profession and to overhaul inefficient policies and practices if necessary. To coin a phrase, it is insane to expect that things will turn out differently if you keep doing what you have been doing.

Failing to undertake this review will only increase the intensity of the problem, which does nothing for the already low morale of the medical profession, particularly for those who consider it a calling and would like to make a difference to the standard of patient care in Hong Kong.

We all know that doctors and nurses are not made in a day. Just saying that more doctors and nurses will be hired next year misses the big picture.

To have a need-based and motivated pool of qualified professionals requires meticulous long-term and comprehensive planning, in order to map out the anticipated expertise and resources required to meet the needs identified. Factors have to be taken into consideration, like the projected growing (or declining) population of patients and the level of patient care desired, career development and remuneration.

If this means hiring ahead of time, so be it.

Alongside this approach must be an awareness of and the willingness to change existing policies that are counterproductive to this goal.

For example, instead of finding ways to attract fully qualified Hong Kong-born and bred doctors to return from abroad to serve in the workforce, the authority is making life difficult for them by setting a higher entry barrier for returnees than local doctors to practise in the city.

The authority needs to wake up right now.

It is facing an immense and momentous task, which calls for someone who has the clear vision, the courage and the passion to take charge and to take action.

Short-term, emergency piecemeal measures only show up the authority's inadequacies and ultimately will be to the detriment of both the local medical profession and the population at large in years to come.

P. Chan, Tai Hang