Patient-focused staff in short supply during son's stay in public hospitals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 April, 2012, 12:00am


As a frequent visitor to Hong Kong for almost 20 years, I have always loved the city's excellence and efficiency.

However, the recent hospitalisation of our five-month-old Down's syndrome son has revealed significant, systemic problems with some aspects of hospital care and facilities.

First and foremost, the prevailing culture of hospital staff lacks the personable customer-focused (that is, patient-focused) service evident in good hotels and restaurants. For many (but not all) nurses, patients are not seen as personal recipients of a service, but as necessary nuisances that get in the way of important work.

Staff do have a professional focus on administration of prescribed treatments, but largely disregard the comfort and general well-being of patients (and parents).

If only those responsible for the education and management of health workers in Hong Kong could change this underlying cultural view, the difference to patients would be like night and day. Nevertheless, we did encounter some excellent and personable doctors and nurses. We were surprised that some hospital facilities seemed really quite inadequate.

At the first of three wards in two Hospital Authority hospitals to which our son was admitted, the paediatric ward had no fridge to store breast-milk, forcing us to push the limits of acceptable lengths of time at room temperature.

In both hospitals, toilets lacked hand soap and/or toilet paper, which were not replenished for days at a time - even in the infectious diseases ward.

There were no facilities whatsoever (other than visitor chairs, and a TV blaring from as early as 7am to as late as 11.30pm) for parents looking after their sick children.

In fact, wards seemed designed to discourage parents from staying, as parents were (at least in theory) prohibited from using the wards' toilets, despite the fact that in all but one case the other children in our wards were wearing nappies. Exhausted, I spent much of the second week sleeping on the floor overnight next to my son's cot.

When we asked where to clean our child's milk bottles, we were directed to the toilet. For me, that is like watching your favourite chef emerge from a public toilet carrying your freshly prepared dinner - unthinkable. Basic facilities for parents such as toilets, a kitchen sink and a kettle for boiling water would be appreciated. Certainly there is room for improvement, and it is to this end that I write.

Tim Rushbrook, Eatons Hill, Queensland, Australia