Public hospital charges are expected to rise at the end of the year as authorities try to keep pace with the rising cost of providing health-care. Secretary for Health and Welfare Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong confirmed yesterday that an 'adjustment' would take place. He did not give details. Patients currently pay a standard $68 a night for a bed at government hospitals, about three per cent of the estimated cost of $2,500 to $3,000. They pay $37 for a general consultation and $44 for a specialist consultation at Hospital Authority clinics, a small proportion of the full cost. The authority's specialist outpatient attendance reached 7.4 million in 1997-98, a 13.2 per cent increase from the previous year. A recent survey found more than 90 per cent of 1,027 public and private doctors supported raising public hospital fees. They recommended $559 per night for a bed, $97 for a general consultation and $205 for a specialist consultation. They also suggested imposing $181 for a visit at accident and emergency clinics. Speaking on a visit to Tseung Kwan O Hospital, Dr Yeoh said: 'It is part of government policy. The adjustment, along with adjustments in other public service charges, will be decided at the end of this year.' Dr Yeoh has already said a cut in subsidies for emergency medical treatment will mean a rise in fees at casualty wards and out-patient clinics. The last adjustment in hospital charges took place in 1996. Dr Yeoh has said the user-pays principle is a fairer way of tackling the question of long-term health-care financing than through medical savings or insurance schemes. Those who could afford to should pay more, while those who could not would receive more subsidies. Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang has said the public health-care system is attracting a disproportionately large number of wealthy people because of its low charges. She suggested higher charges would allow private hospitals and clinics to compete and share the demand for health services. Last year's government-commissioned Harvard medical consultation report predicted a growing and ageing population would drive health-care costs upward by up to 23 per cent by 2016. It took 14 per cent of total government expenditure last year. Dr Yeoh said medical reforms were not urgent because there would not be any problem in the coming few years, according to the Harvard report. 'As reiterated before, we will be issuing a green paper for consultation at the appropriate time. There is no urgency to do it,' he said. Reforms would be carried out over a long period because they were complex and had long-term and far-reaching effects on society, he added. On the same occasion, Hospital Authority chief executive Dr William Ho Shui-wei said a special committee to work out ways of solving the pressing problem of doctors' long working hours would report back in six months. Emergency services were started yesterday at Tseung Kwan O Hospital, covering 16 hours a day, from 7am to 11pm. The hospital hopes to extend these services to 24 hours a day at the beginning of next year, taking into account patient demand and operational capacity, said its chief executive, Dr David Lam Tat-yin. He estimated the use of emergency services at United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong would be cut by 15 to 20 per cent - the proportion of Tseung Kwan O residents which now uses the Kwun Tong casualty ward. Tseung Kwan O Hospital, which currently has 358 beds, is expected to have 240 more when in full operation.