PATIENTS will be forced to foot the bill for improvements to hospital services because of the Government's failure to boost the Hospital Authority's budget in line with soaring medical costs, the health care lobby said. Although recurrent and total expenditure on health will both rise by 7.7 per cent in real terms to $19.8 billion and $22.1 billion respectively, the authority will get an increase just in line with inflation. The use of new technology in the medical field during the past two decades has caused medical costs to spiral well above inflation meaning the authority will in effect get less money this year. There are plans to provide 807 extra hospital beds, expand the renal dialysis programme to care for 100 more patients and reduce the average waiting time for cataract surgery by six months. But worried doctors and a patients' group said the Government made it clear that it expected patients to pay more for medical services by announcing an increase in hospital bed charges linked, for the first time, to average operating costs. Patients' Rights Association spokesman Yung Wai-mui said: 'The Government has shown us that it doesn't want to spend more money on medical care. 'If the Government is not covering the cost of medical care then we can expect the burden to be passed on to the patients.' The president of the Public Doctors' Association, Dr Chu Kin-wah, claimed Hospital Authority funding increased below the rate of medical inflation also put great strain on public hospital staff. 'Increasing the budget only in line with general inflation is really quite worrying. It means the funding for public hospitals is actually being reduced,' he said. 'Most major hospitals have a tight purse at a time when the public's expectations are increasing so this is a particularly difficult time for doctors.' Legislator Dr Huang Chen-ya claimed the Government had reneged on its duty to subsidise the authority. He said: 'The public is being asked to shoulder a much bigger amount of the authority's budget and it is clearly the Government's policy to shift responsibility onto the patients.' Dr Huang and fellow legislator Dr Leong Che-hung said they were disappointed with funds allocated for the prevention of disease.