When it comes to maintaining quality health care, two heads are better than one
Insiders from the health sector share their insights in a new fortnightly column
Professor John Leong Chi-yan
Having retired from the presidency of the Open University of Hong Kong on April 1, I am now able to spare more time on my new venture as chairman of the Hospital Authority, whose scope of work is no stranger to me.
My close relationship with public hospitals dates back to my 38 years of service with Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam. Before heading the governing committee of Castle Peak Hospital in Tuen Mun for 16 years from 1995, I served in the first term of the authority's board when it was established in 1990, in my capacity as dean of the medical faculty of the University of Hong Kong. Over the years, I have always been proud to be a member of the authority family.
On the day my appointment to the authority was announced, I had already mapped out three major pillars of my vision for the organisation: to provide world-class medical services; to nurture our young doctors to attain international standards; and to create an environment conducive to clinical research and innovation.
The efficiency and quality of Hong Kong's public health care have long been admired around the world. However, we should not be complacent and shall strive to reach new heights amid the daunting challenges ahead. These include the inevitable ageing of our population, the escalating incidence of chronic diseases, the ever-increasing demand on public health care, and the recurring threat of global pandemics. All of these have continuously been exerting pressure on the public health system and our frontline staff.
No matter how affluent a city is, public resources are always finite and can never satisfy public expectation and demand. To maintain a sustainable world-class service, we must treasure our long-standing public-private health-care system and consolidate it further. Over the past few years, I was glad to see the authority moving in the right direction by launching a series of public-private collaboration programmes in areas such as cataract surgery, haemodialysis and radiological examinations. Most of these innovative programmes are welcomed by patients and our partners.
The latest, announced last month, is a programme involving general outpatient clinics which will benefit patients in Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin and Tuen Mun districts starting from the latter half of this year. The programme will offer additional choice and greater convenience to patients receiving primary care in the private sector, while at the same time freeing up public-sector capacity to enhance service quality and efficiency.
While we believe modernised systems and efficient procedures are the skeleton of a good health-care system, no one would dispute that manpower and talent are the tissue and muscles making it work. Unfortunately, the authority has faced a significant professional brain drain in recent years. While the situation has improved somewhat in the past 12 months, medical and nursing manpower remain at the top of our policy agenda.
With more graduates expected from medical schools in the years ahead, I believe young doctors are the future of Hong Kong's public health-care provider. The authority should strive to offer continual quality training for our future medical professionals. By keeping abreast of international standards for training and practice in medicine, Hong Kong would maintain its competitive edge and further excel in clinical studies and research, which will benefit those in need.
Since assuming the chairmanship, I have visited a number of public hospitals to learn of the concerns and ideas of frontline colleagues. There is an old English idiom: "Two heads are better than one." I believe drawing on collective wisdom and expertise to be the essence of successful policy formulation and implementation.
The three pillars are just the start. With support from frontline staff, the government, patient groups as well as the community at large, I am confident that the authority will be able to strive for excellence in meeting the public health policy that "no one should be prevented, through lack of means, from obtaining adequate medical treatment".
Professor John Leong Chi-yan is chairman of the Hospital Authority