The Hospital Authority will charge storage fees in mortuaries if measures to reduce overcrowding fail.
Authority chief executive Shane Solomon told the Legislative Council health services panel yesterday that construction plans were in place for 220 new compartments this year and 330 compartments next year.
The new compartments would increase capacity by 36 per cent, to 2,080.
The moves were made to prevent a repeat of the body identification blunder at Prince of Wales Hospital in April. Two bodies had been mixed up by being placed in the same compartment because of overcrowding of the mortuary's 56 units.
Mr Solomon said that the extra demand for the next 10 years was estimated at 610 compartments. He said capacity would be sufficient when construction was finished, provided the storage period remained the same.
'If our measures to increase capacity still fail and if the length of storage continues to increase, then we will consider a storage charge,' Mr Solomon said.
He said government figures showed the average storage period at mortuaries in Bradbury Hospice and Hong Kong Buddhist Hospital - the only two hospitals that impose storage charges - was much shorter than the average storage period in public hospital mortuaries. Specific figures were not released.
Imposing a storage charge after a reasonable period has proven an effective tool for encouraging the early collection of bodies, Legco was told.
Also yesterday, the government said it had no fixed timetable on regulating health maintenance organisations (HMOs).
Despite ongoing criticism, Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the government would ask as a first step for HMOs to appoint a medical director who would be held accountable for malpractices.
Mr Nip was responding to calls from eight medical associations for the government to set up a licensing system for private HMOs.
Representatives from the associations told the panel yesterday that a proposal to encourage the appointment of medical directors of HMOs would not go far enough.
Medical Council chairman Felice Lieh Mak said HMOs should be defined under the law.
Panel vice-chairman Kwok Ka-ki said the plan to ask for the voluntary appointment of a medical director was first suggested last June. 'When will you take the second step? What is the timetable?' he asked.