A hospital chief has questioned the ethics of the Hong Kong Anglican Church after it asked a court to force the non-profit operation out of premises in Central.
The church, also known as the Sheng Kung Hui, filed a writ against the Hong Kong Central Hospital on Thursday, claiming possession of the property on Lower Albert Road and damages for breach of its tenancy agreement.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the dispute yesterday, the hospital's medical superintendent, Dr Cheng Chun-ho, said he knew its tenancy had expired at the beginning of last month. The hospital was negotiating with the government over a new site, he said, though moving a hospital at a time when patient care and medical staff were stretched to the limit in the city might not be the best way forward right now.
'It is an ethical issue whether a church wants to pursue their new developments at the expense of a hospital, its patients and staff,' Cheng said.
The private hospital, housed in a single building, operates an endoscopy centre, a special care unit with four beds and four operating rooms.
In February 2009, the church announced plans to spend HK$800 million converting four historic buildings on the Central site into a museum and gallery and to open the long-closed site to the public. The hospital was told it would have to make way for the plan. At the time, the hospital had just spent about HK$20 million on renovations because it expected its lease to be extended, as it had been for more than 50 years.
Several months later, the hospital told the government it wanted to rent the largely empty Tsan Yuk Hospital in Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun. However, Cheng said no decision had been reached on this.
'The government has been very positive about this over the years. They were willing to explore the possibility,' he said. 'But I think they may have concerns about whether renting the place to us directly would come across as unfair to others who may also want to run a hospital.'
Cheng called on the church to give the hospital more time, at least until the government came to a decision on whether it could move to the Sai Ying Pun premises.
A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said the government had no arrangement yet for the hospital's relocation. The church could not be reached for comment.
If the government rejected its proposal, the hospital would have to close and lay off 130 staff, Cheng said.
'We aren't trying to use the space without paying,' he said. 'What we want is to serve the community, especially given the city's pressing need for more medical resources. Although we're a small hospital, I think we're still important and we'd love to go on running.'
The church's provincial secretary general, Peter Douglas Koon, said on Thursday the lawsuit was 'standard procedure' and that the church was on good terms with the hospital.
Cheng said: 'The church has talked with us from time to time and kindly told us of their plans. But on Thursday we got the writ without having much prior knowledge.'
The hospital has about a month to respond to the writ. 'We're going to have a meeting with our legal consultants this week and come up with a way to respond,' Cheng said.
The writ says the parties signed a tenancy agreement in June 2009 for a monthly rent of HK$262,900. The hospital asked for it to be reduced to HK$87,633 in March last year, and the church agreed. That same month the church gave the hospital three months' notice to vacate its premises, the writ says. By early last month three more notices had been served but the hospital had failed to vacate the building.