'Arbiter' needed, doctors' chief says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 5:55am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 5:55am

The government should set up an independent body to settle disputes arising from a partnership under which some public hospital patients are given subsidies for treatment at private clinics, the Medical Association president says.

The new organisation should act as an "arbiter" to determine how government funding is split between the Hospital Authority and private doctors, Dr Louis Shih Tai-cho said.

The partnership was introduced as part of a government push to utilise the private sector to ease a growing health care burden. The private sector has 60 per cent of the city's doctors yet treats just 10 per cent of patients.

Shih's comments came after a cool response from private doctors since the April launch of the first phase of the partnership, under which hypertension patients can receive treatment at private clinics.

Just 80 of the 400 private doctors in the three districts covered have agreed to join the scheme, under which they are paid HK$270 per consultation.

"There should be a better system to handle the project," said Shih.

"The Hospital Authority now pockets all the government funding for the public-private partnership, and has taken into its own hands how to divide it between itself and the private doctors. This is not fair."

Shih said several rounds of talks between the association and the authority had proved fruitless, and he believed agreement would not be reached unless the Food and Health Bureau, or an independent third party, stepped in.

But Dr Choy Khai-meng, the authority's chief manager for service transformation, said it was for the government to decide whether a new body was needed. He said the hypertension scheme had beaten its target of attracting 60 doctors.

The 30,000 patients affected would be able to choose from about 20 doctors in each of the three districts - Wong Tai Sin, Kwun Tong and Tuen Mun.

But Shih is concerned that the issue of patients' records could cause disputes.

"I fully support emphasising primary health care as the direction for our health care service, and the role of family doctors should be increased to ease the burden of the public sector," Shih said. "But this goal cannot be achieved without a fair system."

The partnership could be extended if it proves successful. An earlier public-private partnership scheme in Tin Shui Wai, set up in 2008, attracted just nine doctors, each of whom sees about 200 public patients per year.