HK$10b to help needy buy medicine
Emily Tsang and Lo Wei
A record HK$10 billion will be provided for the Samaritan Fund to subsidise patients' purchases of medicines, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced in his budget speech.
The fund supports 1,300 patients who rely on long-term drugs such as cancer medicine and growth hormones.
Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk said the HK$10 billion would be spent over the next 10 years.
The HK$10 billion contribution is part of HK$59.2 billion in health expenditure for the coming year.
Tsang said recurrent funding for the Hospital Authority would increase by nearly 40 per cent to HK$40 billion in the next financial year. Some HK$15.4 billion will be spent over the next several years to redevelop Queen Mary Hospital at Pok Fu Lam and Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei.
The Samaritan Fund, financed by donations, helps patients with financial problems buy expensive drugs that are not on the Hospital Authority's list of subsidised medicines.
As well as the one-off injection, the threshold for households to qualify for the scheme has been lowered.
As a result, about 2,300 more patients are expected to benefit, including middle-class patients who failed to obtain a subsidy under the old scheme, a government source said.
'We understand a family faces a lot of pressure if a member is on long-term medication,' the source said. 'We hope the scheme will improve the living quality of people who unfortunately fall ill, especially those in the middle class [who did not benefit] under the old scheme.'
The cash injection is the government's fourth to the fund since 2005, and the highest yet - ten times its previous contribution of HK$1 billion, made in 2008/09.
Allowances will also be simplified. Bigger families will enjoy higher subsidies.
'Assuming a family of four has an annual disposable income of HK$100,000, and another HK$400,000 in [liquid assets], drug expenses may eat up HK$100,000 a year,' the source said.
'But under the new scheme, a cap ... will be set at 10 per cent of the annual disposable income, meaning HK$10,000. That is all they need to pay. The other HK$90,000 will be funded.'
Tim Pang Hung-cheong, of the Patients' Rights Association, welcomed the input but said more self-funded medicine should be included in the list covered by the fund.
Queen Mary Hospital and Kwong Wah Hospital will be rebuilt on their current sites.
The redevelopments will not add extra beds at either of the hospitals.
Wu said the redevelopments would be problematical. Queen Mary Hospital is built on a slope and some of its buildings have heritage status, while the Kwong Wah Hospital site is small and has construction constraints.
The HK$7 billion redevelopment of Queen Mary Hospital would focus on upgrading emergency and cardiology services, the government source said. Work could start as soon as the Legislative Council approved funding in 2014, and was expected to be complete by 2025.
Microbiology professor Ho Pak-leung, of the University of Hong Kong, questioned why the project had to take 14 years, considering the speed with which the new government headquarters at Admiralty was built.
He agreed the work had to be done. 'Queen Mary is really old and backward in facilities. It often floods during the rainy season.'
At Kwong Wah Hospital, a new complex will replace six of the seven current buildings at a cost of about HK$8.4 billion.
Kwong Wah Hospital chief executive Dr Nelson Wat Ming-sun expects the work to be complete in 2020. 'Accident and emergency services will not be affected and other services will be adjusted to minimise the impact,' Wat said.
Tsang also proposed spending HK$32 million to expand services at maternal and child health centres, in the face of increasing numbers of non-local women giving birth in the city.