New hospital in Shenzhen fails to impress Cepa critics

Local doctor's new eye facility in Shenzhen was made possible by free-trade deal, but many say such cross-border projects are too much effort

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 5:15am

Critics of Hong Kong's free-trade deal with the mainland maintained their reservations about the scheme as the first wholly Hong Kong-owned hospital in Shenzhen opened yesterday.

Business and medical leaders said the complicated procedures and high risk under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) signed a decade ago had put off potential investors.

They said Guangdong authorities should lower the barriers.

Launching his eye hospital yesterday, founder and director Dr Dennis Lam Shun-chiu said he had struggled with the application procedures for two years.

"There are certain procedures yet to be optimised [under Cepa]", the ophthalmologist and former Chinese University professor said. "I had to go through all kinds of procedures with many departments."

He said he had to own or rent a site before he was granted approval for his business - meaning he could have lost his capital if the application failed.

The C-MER (Shenzhen) Dennis Lam Eye Hospital is the first on the mainland to be wholly owned by Hongkongers as a result of the ninth supplement to Cepa signed last year, which relaxed a requirement that Hong Kong doctors have mainland partners.

Speaking at the opening, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said there were 72 joint Hong Kong-mainland medical institutions. He said the opening of Lam's hospital highlighted a new stage of co-operation between the medical professions on opposite sides of the border.

But National People's Congress delegate and businessman Michael Tien Puk-sun said the hospital might be a one-off project under Cepa, because the pact's terms were unattractive.

"The risk on investment is too high and its application process is too slow," he said. "Even though the central and Hong Kong governments are keen about it, it seems the provincial government is not very helpful."

The risk on investment is too high and its application process is too slow
NPC member and businessman Michael Tien Puk-sun

The president of the Medical Association, Dr Tse Hung-hing, agreed that cultural and institutional differences had put investors off, even though many doctors had been interested in setting up clinics on the mainland since Cepa was signed in 2003.

Lam, who said his decision to quit the university and launch a hospital took "a great deal of courage", invested HK$200 million. The hospital, with 30 beds and five operating rooms, is on the first and second floors of a commercial building in Futian, Shenzhen. Its 20 medical staff include five Hong Kong doctors.

A cataract operation costs up to 20,000 yuan (HK$24,700), versus an average price of 8,000 yuan in other mainland hospitals, Lam said.

"I have humbly endeavoured to establish a modern eye hospital with good international standards, in the hopes that it will serve as a model for private hospitals in China," he said.