Doctors raise doubts over plans to more than double Hong Kong emergency ward fees

Consultants for the Hospital Authority have suggested raising the fee for accident and emergency services from HK$100 to HK$220

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:21pm

Doctors and patients’ groups have expressed concerns over proposals that could see emergency ward fees more than double in an attempt to cut waiting times and prevent overuse.

It is understood that consultants for the Hospital Authority have suggested raising the fee for accident and emergency services from HK$100 to HK$220, in an effort to also maintain the proportion of government subsidy at 82 per cent, which was set in 2003.

The move is hoped to drive away patients who visit emergency wards unnecessarily and alleviate the pressure on overburdened wards, where patients had to wait for more than 10 hours to see doctors in some hospitals during peak flu season.

However, Dr Axel Siu Yuet-chung, vice-president of the Hong Kong College of Emergency Medicine, said the introduction of the HK$100 charge for emergency ward services in 2002 showed adding fees was not an appropriate approach.

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“The number of patients dropped within a short period of time, but then the number increased gradually in 2004 onwards,” Siu told RTHK on Friday morning.

Ivan Lin, a community organiser from the Society for Community Organisation, worried that the proposal would prevent low-income families and the elderly from seeking medical help if needed.

“The primary care services in Hong Kong are not sufficient and therefore [low-income] patients had to visit the emergency wards. But given the complication in applying fee waiver, would they choose not to seek treatment?” said Lin.

The Post reported that a study revealed that almost one tenth of Hongkongers did not see doctors because of financial deprivation.

Lin said that the current fee waiver application involved a review of the financial condition of the applicant’s entire family, which could be troublesome and drive away people seeking help.

He added that in some cases, elderly patients visited public hospitals only because of urinary catheter problems or feeding tube issues, which could be handled at the primary care level.

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As the number medical graduates in the city is set to increase from 250 to 420 in 2018, Siu suggested there should be proper manpower planning for doctors in primary care and emergency services.

“If we have better infrastructure, some patients could in fact be transferred back to primary care services,” said Siu, adding that many semi-urgent and non-urgent patients could in fact be handled by general outpatient clinics.

Lin added that the procedures for fee waiver applications should be simplified to ensure the medical needs of underprivileged patients are met.

The suggested fee increase comes as a preliminary review on fee adjustments as now been completed.