Private doctors to be recruited to Hong Kong public hospitals to tackle winter flu season
Centralised recruitment unit, the Central Locum Office, set up to hire doctors from private sector
The private sector will play a more significant role in easing demand for public health care during the winter surge in influenza, as the government is to broaden the scope of collaboration with private hospitals and recruit more part-time private doctors.
In response to a seasonal surge in the number of hospital admissions, the Hospital Authority announced on Friday that a centralised recruitment unit, called the Central Locum Office, has been set up to hire private doctors to work temporarily in public hospitals to boost manpower. They can choose to work on an hourly basis, and in various hospitals.
The authority’s chief manager Dr Ian Cheung Tsz-fung said it would also widen the scope of an existing bed-sharing scheme with two private hospitals – Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital and St Teresa’s Hospital in Kowloon City – to include two more types of patients, namely those from medical wards and orthopaedic patients – excluding post-operative patients.
The scheme of renting beds from private hospitals was rolled out last summer, as the number of patients seeking help from accident and emergency units surged unexpectedly to 6,628 on one peak day, more than 10 per cent higher compared with the same period last year, according to official statistics. In total, 35 post-operative patients were transferred from public hospitals to St Teresa Hospital to raise the turnover in public wards.
“We will use the bed-sharing scheme only as a backup plan,” said Cheung. “We will activate it when the demand for A&E services overwhelms the supply … We are in talks with the two hospitals now and hope when we do need private beds, they can be arranged in less than a week.”
In the past two weeks, the number of first attendances at A&E and admissions to medical wards via A&E have already surged to 5,583 and 967 patients on average, compared with 5,942 and 956 in the whole winter surge last year, the authority’s statistics show.
Cheung added that the authority had already added more than 400 temporary beds and would add 300 more to cope with the winter surge. This year, 229 new permanent beds have been added and 500 new ones are expected for next year.
The authority will also boost a virology service, a rapid test for influenza, from a quota of 30,000 last season to 100,000 this season. Patients of all ages who show symptoms of influenza are eligible for the tests which give results in 24 hours. This allows doctors to confirm diagnosis and prescribe respective treatment.
Dr Li Kai-ming, chairman of the coordinating committee (accident and emergency) under the authority, noted a steady increase in the number of A&E admissions since December 1 and in the second week of the month, 28 patients in three hospitals waited for more than 12 hours for A&E services.
“We encourage the non-urgent and semi-urgent patients to consider other treatment options than A&E, for example outpatient and private clinics,” said Li. “We also encourage early vaccinations against influenza.”