Free clinic caters for city's working poor
New immigrant Coco Chui is one of 20 patients sitting in the Sham Shui Po office of a leading welfare group, waiting her turn to see a Chinese medical practitioner to ease her muscle pain.
Unlike for most patients, who pay HK$100 or more for a session of acupuncture like the one she will receive, Chui's consultation will be free.
The mainlander, who has been in Hong Kong for four years, is among 40 people who receive free treatment each week at a clinic organised by the Society for Community Organisation (Soco) and Chinese medicine practitioner Pang Chun-sang for those who cannot afford to pay for it.
'A session of acupuncture lasts for 20 minutes,' Chui, a cleaner with one son, said. 'Rich people have no problem paying for it. But it is my whole day's salary.'
The clinic is held on Tuesday mornings for the elderly and Thursday evenings for the working poor.
The evening session allows patients to fit their visits around their working hours.
'We only get sick leave when we are too ill and unable to work for four days. So it means I can't visit doctors during the daytime,' Chui said.
Soco started the free clinic in January last year under a proposal put forward by Pang, who says his goal is to provide a free medical service to the poor that is as good as those that better-off people pay for.
He has been giving free services to his Cheung Chau neighbours since his student days at Baptist University.
'My parents were fishermen. Life has never been easy for us,' Pang said. 'I understand it is difficult for poor people to get good medical services. That was why I studied Chinese medicine.'
After graduation in 2003, he continued to provide the free services but, wanting to expand their scope through a non-religious, non-political organisation, he approached Soco.
'We need a place where patients can return regularly, and the doctor must be the patient's family doctor, who knows the patients well,' Pang said.
Soco director Ho Hei-wah wants to expand the free service into a full-fledged clinic for the working poor.
'I didn't realise there was such a huge demand for a free medical service that opens in the evenings until we opened this one,' he said.
'The government's public health service is doing rather badly in terms of taking care of the working poor.'
Pang, who owns three clinics, rosters three doctors who work for him to attend the Soco clinic.
'The doctors enjoy working here,' he said. 'Those who visit our regular clinics are different. Some have cancer, some want to have babies, some look for ways to become healthier. But here, many of the low-income people suffer from muscle pain, can't sleep well and have emotional problems because their lives are harsh. So the doctors have a richer experience meeting these patients.'
Soco worker Ng Wai-tung said that with limited resources, the clinic had to turn many people away.
'We want to expand the service, such as by providing health talks and check-ups, which are on the preventive side of medicine,' Ng said. 'But for the time being, we hope people will donate to our clinic, because it is under financial strain.'