Hospital Authority chief executive William Ho Shiu-wei yesterday brushed aside criticism that a 'warlord mentality' among public hospitals has been an obstacle in the fight against Sars. Dr Ho, who has himself recovered from the virus and returned to work yesterday, said the authority's decision two years ago to group its 40-plus hospitals into seven clusters had proved effective in dealing with Sars. While he mentioned no names, it was believed his remarks were a response to the allegations of legislator Lo Wing-lok. Dr Lo said this week that there was 'serious compartmentalisation' within the authority. Rejecting the allegation, Dr Ho said the clusters' seven chief executives met with authority directors every morning and were able to effectively pass down instructions to frontline staff. The cluster system had allowed hospitals in the same cluster to support one another. Without it, it would have been difficult to halt emergency services at Prince of Wales Hospital by asking other hospitals to share the workload. The measure was taken in March as Prince of Wales staff fell victim to an outbreak of the disease. Dr Ho said the merits of Hong Kong's public health-care system was that all public hospitals were being managed by the Hospital Authority, meaning that reporting of cases was very efficient. He attributed the high level of anxiety and rate of Sars infection among medical workers to the fact that the disease was new and everyone had been caught unprepared. He admitted that there had been a shortage of protective gear at the initial stage of the outbreak but this had since been addressed. The danger now was that better protective gear might give staff a false sense of security, said Dr Ho. 'They could still get infected if they do not adhere to strict procedures aimed at preventing contamination. That's why we have introduced inspection teams,' he said. Dr Ho said although he has recovered from the disease, he was not sure if he still carried the virus. He is still taking precautions at home and keeping a distance from his children and wife.