Shortages hamper Tung Chung hospital

Lantau facility will open in September, but due to lack of staff will run only A&E services, for eight hours a day, for the first five months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 4:13am

Tung Chung is due to have its own hospital this year, but 24-hour accident and emergency services will not be available until the third quarter of next year due to a shortage of medical staff.

North Lantau Hospital, under the Kowloon West Cluster, will open in late September, but operations will be launched in phases, with the accident and emergency department in service eight hours a day, from 9am to 5pm for the first stage.

The hospital - near Yat Tung Estate - is a seven-storey, crescent-shaped block.

Construction began in January 2010, with a HK$2.48 billion budget, and ended in December last year. Interior renovation and equipment installation are under way.

"It's common for newly opened hospitals to have a run-in period to ensure everything goes well," said Dr Chong Yee-hung, chief manager (North Lantau Hospital). "But once we're on track, we'll push the schedule forward [for the next stage]."

The hospital is expected to provide accident and emergency services for 16 hours every day by January, at the latest. But residents must wait another six months until the service can be offered full-time.

By the end of last year, the Hospital Authority had hired more than 80 new employees.

However, recruitment was not running as smoothly as it could, due to the severe shortage of doctors.

"The city's supply of doctors is very tight. We hope to have one more year [before providing the 24-hour services] to recruit more graduates," Chong said.

He admitted the hospital still needed 10 more doctors to provide all-day accident and emergency services.

Islands District councillor Bill Tang Ka-piu said the arrangement was disappointing for the residents of Tung Chung, but it was better than having no hospital in the area.

"At least there's a timetable showing that [the 24-hour services] will come in a year," said Tang of Yat Tung Estate North constituency.

Currently, Tung Chung residents requiring hospital care must travel about 30 minutes to Princess Margaret Hospital.

North Lantau Hospital has 160 beds, but will wait until it is fully operational before accepting in-patients. However, people who need other specialist services the hospital does not provide will have to be taken to other hospitals within the cluster.

There will also be 20 day-beds for patients undergoing minor operations not requiring overnight stays.

The new town, at the northwestern corner of Lantau Island, has a population of about 100,000. The government wants to extend Tung Chung through reclamation as part of its plan to ease long-term housing needs.

A three-hectare piece of land next to the hospital has been reserved for extension to cope with a possible increase in population.