Incoming health minister Dr Ko Wing-man says the new government should continue a wide range of medical policies introduced by its predecessor, including the unpopular health insurance scheme, the partnership between private and public hospitals, and the health care voucher programme for the elderly.
His comments allayed concern that the next administration would overturn existing policies.
But he refused to be drawn on whether he had anyone in mind for his under-secretary. 'In general, we want someone willing to be politically accountable, capable of being an acting minister if necessary, and able to supplement the knowledge of the minister,' he said.
He is willing to hand the opportunity to a 'relatively younger doctor' who fits the criteria, but does not know the timetable for selection as Leung's government revamp plan has been held up in the legislature.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Ko said his most urgent tasks were to shorten the waiting time for patients in public hospitals and to boost the morale of public doctors.
But the private orthopaedic doctor, who will succeed Dr York Chow Yak-ngok, said the next bureau chief should continue and extend the many 'important medical developments' Chow introduced.
Amid concern from doctors and patients' groups that the next government may reject the long-delayed voluntary health insurance scheme proposed by Chow to reform the health care system, Ko said discussions on this should continue.
'The insurance plan has to be voluntary, because there is a consensus in society that no one likes a mandatory system like the one in Canada,' he said. 'But the detailed arrangements of the insurance package should be discussed carefully, and it is particularly important to address the worries of chronic and high-risk patients.'
The government hopes the scheme will spread the burden of health care provision borne by public hospitals that take care of 90 per cent of the city's patients while employing only 40 per cent of its doctors. Ko said the reform should be followed by a closer partnership between the private and public sector.
Ko said the health care voucher scheme for the elderly, which gives HK$500 a year to elderly patients to encourage them to use private clinics, was a success and the same format should be extended to other patient groups. Chow congratulated Ko on his appointment yesterday and said he was confident the new minister would continue to work on pressing medical issues.
Ko also said it was never Leung's intention to crack down on private hospitals by announcing a zero quota policy on births to mainland mothers. 'The new practice should not be seen as a change of policy to crack down on private hospitals. The incoming chief executive is trying to control the influx of mainland mothers which stemmed from the right of abode [for their babies]. The root is outside the health care system. Private hospitals are not to blame for the influx problem; they have been passive on this matter.
'But it is also true that there are views that the government should impose more controls on private hospitals. By that, I assume it is most important to promote a transparent fee.'
Ko says he has stopped accepting new cases at his private clinic and has been arranging transfers for his current patients in order to prepare for his new job. 'I may need a few weeks to familiarise myself with the papers and documents and fit into the new office,' he said.