Hong Kong health chiefs want 80pc rise in A&E charge at public hospitals
Recommendation of HK$180 follows call last year for a HK$220 charge to ease demand on overstretched wards
Health authorities want the fee for emergency ward services at public hospitals to rise 80 per cent to HK$180, a government source revealed on Tuesday.
The recommendation came after the Hospital Authority raised controversy last year by proposing the government increase the charge to HK$220 in accident and emergency departments.
“We hope the [fee rise] can strike a balance between guaranteeing services for low-income patients and lowering the burden on the emergency wards,” the source said.
Food and health minister Dr Ko Wing-man did not confirm the information on Tuesday but said the government’s recommendations needed to be debated by the Legislative Council’s health services panel before being submitted to the Executive Council for final deliberation.
“We have made our recommendations after considering opinions from different stakeholders,” Ko said.
If approved, it would be the first increase in emergency ward charges since the authority began charging for services in 2002, when the current HK$100 fee was introduced.
The authority had said last year that the increase could help alleviate overcrowding at public emergency wards, which handled 2.2 million visits in 2015.
It also cited increasing numbers of non-emergency patients using emergency services, saying higher fees could help to deter some of these patients.
Dr Ng Chi-ho, president of the Public Doctors’ Association, hoped the fee increase would help divert some patients to private clinics to ease the burden on overloaded public emergency wards.
“The amount of fee is not important,” Ng said. “We only hope to see fewer patients abusing the public wards after the price is made closer to that of private clinics.”
He said public hospitals still faced a severe shortage of manpower, which should be resolved regardless of the fee increase, and that hospitals should set up a mechanism to review the fee regularly.
But Tim Pang Hung-cheong, spokesman for the Patients’ Rights Association, said he would not support the proposal. “My greatest concern is that the increase will affect those with medium-low incomes the most.”
He said people on social security did not have to pay the fees, but he estimated it would hit hundreds of thousands of people who were hovering around the poverty line but not receiving social security.
Pang added that many patients resorted to emergency wards because they did not know whether they were in an emergency or they could not access private clinics in their neighbourhoods.
He urged the government to review a scheme to waive emergency ward charges for poor patients not on social security before considering raising fees. He has criticised the scheme for being too stringent and complicated.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung