Public-health resources are to undergo a major reshuffle to better meet the needs of patients, particularly in parts of Kowloon where facilities are struggling to cope with changing demographics, the new chairman of the Hospital Authority says.
That meant redrawing the 23-year-old boundaries of the seven geographical clusters that divided public hospitals and clinics into groups for easier resource allocation, Professor John Leong Chi-yan said.
But the 71-year-old said the authority would not undergo a top-to-bottom reform during his two-year term.
He also shot down an idea by his predecessor Anthony Wu Ting-yuk to exempt foreign-trained doctors with good qualifications from the local licensing examination, saying an assessment was crucial to ensure their level of knowledge.
"[My mission] is to improve; it is certain that there will not be any earth-shaking change," Leong said at his first sit-down interview with media since he took office on December 1. "We need to pinpoint the problem and correct it accordingly."
The hospital clusters were formed in 1990 when the authority was established. They are Hong Kong East, Hong Kong West, Kowloon Central, Kowloon East, Kowloon West, New Territories East and New Territories West, taking in a total of 42 public hospitals, 48 specialist clinics and 73 general outpatient clinics.
The system gave each cluster chief the flexibility to distribute resources among facilities under his charge, but critics have long attacked it for producing an unequal division of resources.
Leong admitted that the cluster boundaries could be outdated in light of evolving demographic factors, such as an ageing population in certain districts.
Some patients visited clinics far away from their homes to avoid long queues at nearby facilities that were short of the relevant resources, he said. The situation was acute in the three Kowloon clusters, where patient numbers were on the rise.
A government-led steering committee would redraw the boundaries after a major 1,700-bed hospital at Kai Tak, Kowloon City, came on stream, he said.
The committee was formed to conduct a year-long review of governance at the authority and had been discussing the changes to the boundaries, he said.
Leong said he hoped each cluster could provide a rehabilitation centre.
In terms of importing doctors from overseas, Leong, who was for many years a member of the licensing body for doctors, the Medical Council, insisted on keeping the current assessment system in place.
Wu, who stepped down from the authority last month, had called for an exemption for well-qualified doctors who had studied and practised in places with a high standard of medical training, in order to ease a manpower shortage in public hospitals.
Leong said: "The exam has to ensure the standards of all doctors practising in Hong Kong.
"We have never made the exam more difficult than necessary in order to stop overseas doctors [from coming to practise]. It is most definitely not an obstacle to exclude outsiders."