Speech therapists and patients suffer from lack of resources

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2011, 12:00am

There have been a lot of reports in the press about 25 per cent of junior doctors leaving Tuen Mun Hospital for various reasons.

Management from the Hospital Authority and even the Food and Health Bureau were extremely quick to react by paying visits to front-line staff, trying to ease tensions within the hospital and, more importantly, allay public concerns.

I am a speech therapist who is part of the allied health sector within the hospital system.

I work in a teaching hospital that sees both acutely ill in-patients and outpatients who have chronic conditions.

Speech therapists work with patients who cannot speak and those who have a problem swallowing. We play an integral part in various patient groups, especially the geriatric population.

As has been widely reported, doctors have serious issues with working hours, equality of employment terms, promotion opportunities and quality of care delivered - so do speech therapists.

Our voices may not be as loud as doctors because we are in a minority, but that does not mean that the problems described in these hospitals are only suffered by doctors. In my hospital alone, we have had at least a 30 per cent rise in the number of referrals from doctors consulting us for swallowing problems, and yet we have had no manpower increase in more than a decade.

This obviously leads to low morale and, more importantly, degraded services for patients. It makes a mockery of the Hospital Authority's slogan 'Healthy People, Happy Staff'.

Patients are now being seen less often for treatment because of the influx of referrals.

Because there has been no increase in manpower, patients may have to endure longer periods where they experience difficulty swallowing food, as they await our initial assessment. It may take longer for them to return to oral feeding.

I get no job satisfaction as a speech therapist, because, instead of providing treatment for our patients, we are simply carrying out assessments.

We have the necessary knowledge and skills to treat patients with speech and swallowing problems, but they are not getting treated early and often enough because the Hospital Authority does not allocate sufficient resources for small departments like ours.

We and our patients are left feeling helpless and isolated.

It is a widespread joke among our staff that the Hospital Authority is referred to as the 'Doctors' Authority' as 'doctors' and 'hospital' differ by only one character in Chinese.

It is also true that, from past experience, doctors' concerns are attended to very quickly.

It is time that management and the public showed the respect to other allied health professionals to which they are entitled.

Raymond Fong, Tai Po