More staff prescribed to cut pharmacy wait times

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2012, 12:00am


Public hospitals aim to hire 100 more pharmacy staff, as patients wait up to three hours to get their prescriptions.

'The average waiting time at a specialist outpatient pharmacy [in a public hospital] is two to three hours during peak hours', when there can be 250 to 300 patients in the queue, William Chui Chun-ming, vice-president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said yesterday.

'It's very hard for people - especially the elderly - to wait for an hour or two to see the doctor, and another two hours just to get their medicine.'

Chui's assessment of the waiting time differed from that of Food and Health Secretary Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, who, in response to a question raised in the Legislative Council, said the average waiting time was 30 to 40 minutes.

Public hospitals now employ 375 pharmacists to verify prescriptions and 985 dispensers to dispense drugs to patients. The Hospital Authority plans to hire 100 people next year to alleviate shortages at the pharmacies.

Only the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University offer pharmacy degrees, producing a total of 60 graduates each year. More than 100 drug dispensers graduate each year.

'The ratio in Hong Kong is one pharmacist to 5,000 people, whereas it's usually one to 2,000 overseas,' Chui said.

He doubted that adding 100 pharmacy staff would be enough, saying long-term planning would ultimately be needed, such as outsourcing medicine dispensing to community pharmacist groups and training more pharmacists.

Legislator Dr Leung Ka-lau, from the medical constituency, said hiring more pharmacy staff might not be the only way to solve the issue.

Leung said the long queues might only be a problem at some public hospitals.

'We need to look at the numbers and see what the shortage really looks like for each hospital,' he said. 'Also, it depends on the hospital's service promises. There can be a better arrangement for patients, like dividing them into designated times to collect medicine so they don't need to wait for all those hours at the hospital.'