A pilot scheme that allows chronically ill patients in northern Tin Shui Wai to see private doctors at reduced rates is failing to attract much interest.
The latest figures from the Hospital Authority showed 539 of 1,629 patients invited had agreed to join the three-year programme, which began in June.
Under the Tin Shui Wai Primary Care Partnership Project, residents in the north of the district who suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension can see private doctors up to 10 times a year for the price of a public-clinic consultation - HK$45 each.
Participating doctors receive a subsidy of HK$105 per consultation, and the authority also supplies them with any drugs that they need to prescribe.
Cheung Tak-hai, chairman of the Alliance for Patients' Mutual Help Organisations, said the lukewarm response from patients was undesirable. He said part of the problem was that too few doctors had agreed to take part.
Six of 16 private doctors running clinics in the north of the district had joined the scheme, said the authority's director of cluster services, Cheung Wai-lun, who said they were satisfied with the response so far. 'Almost 40 per cent of the doctors have joined,' he said.
Dr Cheung said some doctors who declined to take part in the programme had told him that it was because they already had enough patients.
Cheung Tak-hai said: 'Tin Shui Wai is a large area, but only six doctors are available for the chronically ill to choose from. Some patients may find those private clinics too inconvenient, so they still prefer visiting public clinics.'
There are two public clinics in Tin Shui Wai.
'Some patients are also worried about the continuity of this pilot scheme. They fear that if they choose to see subsidised private doctors now, they will be denied public health care services when the scheme is over,' Cheung Tak-hai said. Some patients feared that it would be difficult for them to be referred back to public clinics when their conditions deteriorated.
Tim Pang Hung-cheong, community organiser of the Society for Community Organisation, said the current participation rate was unsatisfactory.
He called on the government to lobby more private doctors to join the programme as an attempt to appeal to more patients.