Lawmakers say health officials 'cheated' Tseung Kwan O residents

Lawmakers attack officials who say they don't have the staff to open obstetrics unit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 4:09am

Lawmakers have accused health officials of backtracking on a planned obstetrics unit due to open at Tseung Kwan O Hospital this year, saying they had "cheated residents".

In a Legislative Council meeting yesterday, officials acknowledged demand for the service in the area and said it would be offered when they had the staff to do so, without giving a timetable.

Lawmakers responded by questioning the government's staffing and resources planning in the health sector.

The criticism came as officials explained the measures announced in last week's policy address to balance the public and private medical sectors - including ways to ease the staffing shortage in public health.

Legislator Alice Mak Mei-kuen, of the Federation of Trade Unions, told the health services panel meeting: "Just now we were asking about the manpower shortage problem [identified in the policy address] and it seemed like it was being well handled. Now we're talking about Tseung Kwan O Hospital, which won't open an obstetrics service because of a manpower shortage."

Lawmakers in 2008 approved a budget of HK$1.95 billion to expand the Tseung Kwan O Hospital, including opening an obstetrics department. But the government shelved the plan in 2011 because of a shortage of medical staff. Health officials yesterday elaborated on that decision.

"The arrangement was made according to priority. We did reserve staff for this, but some left," said Food and Health Bureau undersecretary Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee.

The obstetrics unit and related services at the hospital would need 30 doctors and 120 nurses. Officials said priority would instead be given to improving its inpatient, ambulatory and other specialised services.

In yesterday's meeting, both pro-establishment and pan-democratic lawmakers said the government had "cheated residents". And medical sector lawmaker Dr Leung Ka-lau questioned whether the real reason the service won't open this year was the expected drop in demand following a ban on mainland mothers who are not married to Hong Kong residents from giving birth in the city.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said developing a system to balance private and public health was one of his most important areas of work. Ko said a concrete proposal on the voluntary health insurance scheme would be unveiled in the second half of the year.