Strengthened community care has helped the Hospital Authority cut demand for public hospital services.
New Territories East Cluster chief executive Fung Hong said that in the past year the area's hospitals had boosted the 'gate-keeping' function of their community medical team and reduced the demand of elderly people for hospital care.
The cluster, which covers Sha Tin, Tai Po and North District, has 97 homes for the elderly with 9,402 places. Dr Fung said that since last year the hospitals had assigned a community care team to each home.
'Doctors and nurses from the community teams are familiar with the medical histories of these elderly residents,' he said. 'When some of these elderly people are sent to our accident and emergency departments or the medical wards, the community teams assess their conditions and see if they can be taken care of back in their homes.'
Since last April, the community care teams has handled 338 referrals and reduced the patients' average length of stay from between five and seven days, to about four days, an estimated saving of $4.8 million.
The North District Hospital, where most breast surgeries in the cluster are conducted, has also launched an early discharge support programme. Women are taught about self-care after breast removal. But Dr Fung reiterated that the aim was not to discharge patients prematurely.
'In fact, many patients want to go home early to take care of their children,' he said. 'Our community nurses pay home visits to them and make sure they can cope. The main part is to learn how to handle the fluid drains from their wounds. This programme is well received by our patients.'
During the same period, the average length of stay for these breast cancer patients has dropped from 7.5 to three days, resulting in savings of $1 million.