Hongkongers get no holiday for proposed fee increases at public hospitals

Survey finds more than 60 per cent are opposed to such moves as top health official visits wards

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 10:19pm

Hong Kong’s acting secretary for food and health said opinions were still being sought on proposed fee ­increases for emergency services.

The comments by Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee came as a survey revealed that more than 60 per cent of respondents opposed the rises proposed by the Hospital Authority.

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The number of patients visiting accident and emergency units at public hospitals hit 6,146 on Monday, up sharply from 4,247 on Saturday, the first day of the Year of the Rooster.

“The Hospital Authority is now contacting different stakeholders and collecting more opinions,” she said, noting the body had ­reported its proposals to the ­Legislative Council.

Chan was speaking Tuesday after visiting Tuen Mun and Yan Chai hospitals where she ­reviewed services and staffing during the holiday.

She said a decision about the next step would be reached “after considering all the opinions in the coming few months”.

If some patients could visit general outpatient clinics or private clinics, pressure on emergency wards could be reduced
Dr Leung Pak-yin, Hospital Authority

The authority has endorsed the proposed increases in medical services, which include fees for accident and emergency ­services rising from HK$100 to HK$220.

The proposals seek to reduce the number of semi-urgent and non-urgent patients at emergency wards, which comprise around 65 per cent of the city’s 2.2 million public hospital visits ­annually.

Under the proposals the charge for a hospital bed would rise from HK$100 per night to HK$150, the general clinic fee from HK$45 to HK$61, and the cost of a first visit to a specialist clinic from HK$100 to HK$170.

The authority’s chief executive, Dr Leung Pak-yin, reiterated his support for the proposals. “If some patients could visit general outpatient clinics or private ­clinics, pressure on emergency wards could be reduced,” he said.

But a survey by the Federation of Trade Unions revealed that 64 per cent of 1,394 respondents ­objected to the proposed increase in emergency fees, despite more than half agreeing the authority should raise charges to curtail abuse of such services.

The survey, carried out ­between December 20 and January 4, found that 94 per cent of ­respondents thought waiting times for services were too long.

Federation lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen said fee increases could not address what she ­regarded as the root problem: overstretched capacity in emergency wards. Instead the government should improve primary care services, she said.

Meanwhile, Leung advised those suffering less severe symptoms to visit private doctors, as he expected emergency and medical wards to be more crowded on Wednesday, the first working day after the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chan urged the public to ­receive flu jabs ahead of the peak season. She said more than 600,000 doses of vaccine had been administered, including 400,000 for the elderly.

She said the government had improved its use of private health care staff by earmarking HK$10 billion to support public-private partnership programmes, which fund private doctors to provide ­services that typically result in long lines at public hospitals. General outpatient clinical services and cataract surgeries programmes are included in the partnership.