CHRONIC shortages in the number of doctors and nurses in hospitals are putting patients' lives at risk, it was claimed yesterday. The Hong Kong Patients' Rights Association said the shortage was forcing patients to wait for urgent treatment. Fed up with what it said was the Government's failure to provide a cohesive health strategy, the group released its own white paper on health, in an attempt to force some action. Among the more urgent needs was an expansion of staff in the hospital system, the group's spokesman, Yung Wai-mui, said. 'The Government should increase the manpower levels of the medical workers, such as doctors and nurses, and establish a manpower indicator for the Hospital Authority to make them recruit more medical workers,' she said. The group's report includes figures compiled by the Legislative Council Health Panel which show the number of registered nurses in the system this year as 15,190 - 3,970 fewer than the 19,160 required to meet the demand. The 3,270 doctors available also falls short of the required 3,780. Also included in the report are strategies to improve primary health care and expand services to the elderly. Miss Yung said the Government's new 'cost recovery' policy for financing medical services discriminated against the elderly who used the services the most and were usually the least able to pay. She called on the Government to maintain full funding of the health system, pointing out that health spending in Hong Kong accounts for only 1.1 per cent of Gross National Product compared with more than five per cent in the US and in the UK. She said the problem of the ageing population - it is estimated that almost one in six people will be aged over 60 by the year 2000 - needs urgent attention, and called on the Government to provide free medical services to everyone over 60. Primary health care could be improved by establishing health care centres in each district, she said. These centres would provide preventive health information to the public, particularly concerning health for the elderly, middle-aged women, students, and on industrial disease - all areas described by Miss Yung as generally neglected. The report also calls for the implementation of improvements in rehabilitation services passed by Legco in 1992 but which have never been put into practice, according to Miss Yung. In another challenge to the Hospital Authority, the group called on it to be more accountable, at least by opening its board meetings. An independent complaints committee should be established to handle patient complaints and monitor health services, Miss Yung said. 'The Government has not given us any policy direction of health services since the last white paper in 1974,' she said. 'A lot of things have changed. 'The population is getting older and the disease patterns and the demands of citizens are very different to what they were 20 years ago. 'It is time the Government conducted its own white paper and brought services up to date.' The Health and Welfare Branch was not available for comment last night.