Overburdened system has created a market for expensive health-care facilities Hong Kong's 12 private hospitals are making a grab for patients from the public sector, where people can wait several years for an operation or a year for an outpatient specialist consultation. The long public waiting lists provided a 'very good opportunity' to expand market share, Private Hospitals Association president Walton Li Wai-tat said. More than 90 per cent of inpatients are treated at public hospitals. Private hospital patients have to pay a few thousand dollars for simple surgery such as circumcision and more than $100,000 for a major operation such as removing liver tumours. But patients have to pay just $100 a day at public hospitals for all services, including operations, consultations, medicine and tests. According to some public doctors and patients, the waiting time for the first consultation at a public clinic of internal medicine is about one year for non-urgent cases such as hypertension or chronic headaches. For surgery such as removal of cataracts, the waiting time can be three years. Dr Li, also head of Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, said private hospitals had increased business recently. The private sector had suffered a downturn in the past few years because many patients opted for cheap and good services at public hospitals. But the public system is now heavily overburdened. 'Private hospitals are doing well again,' he said. 'Some patients come to private hospitals because they do not want to wait so long at public hospitals. 'Doctors' and patients' relations may get worse at public hospitals while there is pressure to cut the waiting time. Some doctors have to spend less time with their patients.' The association is designing a website to provide information on private hospitals and the hospitals are also planning new strategies to win patients. Public Doctors' Association president Wong Tak-cheung said the long waiting lists were the result of the chronic overloading of public hospitals. He said that at the Tseung Kwan O Hospital, where he is head of the department of medicine, the average waiting time for a first consultation for some common cases, such as hypertension, was about one year. 'At our department, a nurse is responsible for making appointments and a senior medical officer then audits the priority setting. The waiting time for an urgent case is only two to eight weeks,' he said. The Hospital Authority said the median waiting time for new cases at specialist outpatient clinics was about six weeks.