Review urged of private-ops pilot scheme
Doctors have called on the Hospital Authority to review or end a long-running pilot scheme providing subsidies to cataract patients to have private surgery after the Audit Commission recommended an overall evaluation of such plans.
They say that if the public-private partnership plan - which has already lasted longer than originally intended - is to continue, consideration should be given to extending it to other types of eye surgery.
Their comments came after the commission said this plan and a similar one for outpatients in Tin Shui Wai, both in their fourth year, had exceeded their scheduled duration of two to three years and had lasted a long time for pilot schemes.
'It is now time to carry out a comprehensive review of the partnership,' it said, noting the government had no plans to make the schemes permanent. The partnership was launched in 2008 as part of efforts to cut waiting times for medical services at public hospitals.
Under the cataract programme, patients receive a government subsidy of HK$5,000 and pay up to HK$8,000 themselves for private surgery. Those in the outpatient programme receive consultations from private doctors at the same rate charged at public clinics.
By the end of last year, the cataract programme had served 16,458 patients and the outpatient programme had handled 1,618, outperforming the targets of 13,000 and 1,500.
Funding was approved to carry out a further 12,000 cataract operations in 2011-12, but not beyond.
Extension of the outpatient programme outside Tin Shui Wai has been put on hold.
The commission said a pilot programme was supposed to be a testing ground and if the schemes were to continue, the level of subsidy and patients' co-payments should be changed to help design better partnerships in the future.
A well-thought-out exit plan should also be prepared if the schemes were to end, as patients reverting to the public system could raise the authority's caseload.
Before 2008, patients had to wait more than five years for cataract surgery in public hospitals. Now the wait is from several days to two years.
Dr Chow Pak-chin, president of the Hong Kong Association of Private Eye Surgeons, said the authority should end the cataract programme and divert the remaining funding to other types of eye diseases. 'It has finished its quest ... a waiting period of up to two years is reasonable,' he said.