Concern over bed quota at new hospitals
The government set out its long-awaited tendering conditions for two new private hospitals yesterday, drawing criticism from patients' representatives and prospective investors.
The move is part of a plan to expand private medical services to improve the balance between public and private medical services.
Yesterday's invitation to tender involves two sites for private hospitals, in Tai Po and Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen, which will contain at least 300 beds each.
Under yesterday's unprecedented terms, half the new beds must be reserved for Hong Kong residents and obstetric services are capped at 20 per cent of all capacity.
On top of that, 30 per cent of all services must be made available at a standard package price that covers all costs, from surgery and medicine to meals. No such restrictions have been placed on private hospital construction in the city's history.
The restrictions were slightly more lenient than suggested earlier by Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, who initially said 70 per cent of the beds would be reserved for Hongkongers to cope with the increasing demand for medical services.
He defended the government's terms yesterday. 'The 50 per cent of the hospital beds reserved for local patients is only the basic requirement,' he said.
'If the organisation can promise to reserve a higher proportion for local people, they can gain higher marks in the bidding process. The new way of bidding is to ensure a part of the service is being retained for Hongkongers, in order to tackle the problems created by an ageing population.'
One patients' group and a lawmaker said the government should have set stricter conditions to guarantee better care for Hongkongers.
'The 50 per cent proportion comes in even lower than expected - it is disappointing,' said Tim Pang Hung-cheong, of the Patients' Rights Association.
He expects the current medical staff shortage at public hospitals to worsen as a result. 'The public hospitals may take the greatest hit, as the new private hospitals will definitely seek experienced doctors and nurses from the public clinics.
'If the manpower in the industry cannot keep up with the pace of development, how can the quality of the service - especially the public service - be guaranteed?' he said.
'It is unfair that local resources, including land and manpower, are being used on non-local patients.'
Lawmaker Dr Leung Ka-lau, from the medical sector, said the government's restrictions would make no real difference to the shortages, as most private hospitals already reserve more then 50 per cent of their beds for local people.
Some hospital operators called the restrictions strict and unfair.
Former legislator Bernard Chan, who is interested in bidding for the site in Aberdeen, said it was difficult for a private hospital to provide 30 per cent of its services at a package price, especially for high-risk cases in which there are unpredictable factors and complications.
He said he needed time to calculate the business implications of the requirements before submitting a tender. 'The land price will ultimately affect the decision on whether to invest or not,' Chan said.
The Aberdeen location, with around 27,500 square metres, seems to be the more popular location with hospital operators. Union Hospital has expressed an interest in bidding.
The Tai Po site - almost double the size of that in Wong Chuk Hang, at 54,851 square metres - has drawn interest from Chinese University, which wants to develop a teaching and training hospital for its medical students.
The two sites are among four locations the government has earmarked for private hospital development. The other two are in Tung Chung and Tseung Kwan O.
The plan to set aside four sites for new private hospitals was announced in the 2008 policy address, when Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen called the medical sector one of the six pillar industries that would sustain Hong Kong's long-term growth.
The construction of new private hospitals would 'consolidate and enhance Hong Kong's position as a prime medical centre in the region'.
According to the tender terms, only 30 per cent of a bid can cover the price of the land, and the remaining 70 per cent must relate to facilities and services to be offered. The invitation to tender will close on July 27.
The size, in square metres, of the Wong Chuk Hang site at Aberdeen. The second site, at Tai Po, is almost double the size at 54,851 square metres