Medical services dumped as pillar industry, says minister Ko Wing-man

Minister Ko Wing-wan says Donald Tsang's 2009 policy address initiative is off the list and industry should now focus on serving locals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2012, 2:29am

The government no longer considers private health care as one of the new "pillar industries" envisaged by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to support long-term economic growth when he was chief executive in 2009.

Health chief Dr Ko Wing-man said the main role for private hospitals was to serve local people and relieve the overloaded public health-care service.

"When we are thinking of private hospitals now, we no longer think of them as a pillar industry," he said yesterday.

In his 2009 policy address, Tsang named medical services as one of six "new pillar industries", along with the cultural and creative industries, education, innovation and technology, testing and certification, and the environmental sector.

Ko disclosed that medicine was off the list in his first media interview since taking office. In it he laid out plans to deal with pressing issues, taking a direction that differs markedly from that of the previous government.

He expressed determination to maintain beyond next year Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's "zero quota" for mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong. The previous influx of women seeking right of abode for their children was blamed partly on private hospitals that invested heavily in obstetric wards, charging outsiders as much as HK$100,000 for a birth.

Ko also said two private hospital sites, in Tseung Kwan O and on Lantau, selected by the previous government, might not be put up for tender after the first two, in Wong Chuk Hang and Tai Po, "did not receive a lot of tenders".

He refused to confirm the number of bidders, but there are reported to have been only three. The government might develop hospitals itself with NGOs, the minister said.

Ko said the government was open-minded about collaborating with private doctors to expand the existing public-private partnership programme, in which some public patients are subsidised to receive private care.

"The public and private health services need to develop equally. We will not put particular stress on the importance of either side", Ko said.

"We hope the private hospitals can focus on serving local people, and play a role in easing the overburdened public hospitals. Attracting overseas patients to our private services and earning money is only a bonus."

Public hospitals care for 90 per cent of patients, while employing about 40 per cent of doctors. To correct this imbalance, Ko said he would move on the long-delayed voluntary health insurance scheme proposed by former health chief Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, so more of the middle-class could afford private services.

The government will receive a proposal from a consultancy next year and start consultations. Common problems with high risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, should be excluded to ensure more people were covered, Ko said.

Meanwhile, Ko said he would receive a list of candidates for health undersecretary in the next few weeks. He refused to disclose how many names he expected on the list.