Patient group fears it will result in rise in cost of medicine A three-level central drug registry may be announced early next year to standardise treatment and dispensing in public hospitals, according to a Hospital Authority source. Under the list, known as a formulary, drugs will be classified into three categories: basic first-line drugs, followed by specialist drugs prescribed by senior medical officers and finally drugs paid for completely by patients. The Hospital Authority will continue to heavily subsidise drugs in the first two categories. The third usually comprises the newest drugs, often expensive, and drugs for diseases that are not life-threatening but may affect a patient's quality of life such as impotency and obesity, according to the source. The source said the authority was consulting specialist doctors in public hospitals to develop a comprehensive drug list. But the authority was reluctant to serve as a middle-man to help patients buy the unsubsidised drugs because it believed competition among drug companies would ensure fair prices. At present, individual hospitals set pricing policies for drugs, with patients normally paying $10 for each drug item. The authority also planned to expand the use of Chinese medicine in public hospitals by allowing practitioners to treat patients alongside western doctors in wards, the source said. Cancer and stroke patients are likely to be the first to have the choice. The long-awaited central drug formulary has been on hold since a major shake-up in the health authorities, including the resignation of health minister Yeoh Eng-kiong, authority chairman Leong Che-hung and its human resource director, Ko Wing-man. The source said the new health minister was eager to push through all stalled improvements, including the central drug list, to enhance the cost-effectiveness of the medical system. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok was approving 'all these plans and is eager to have these policies in place as soon as possible', the source said. But Ho Hei-wah, spokesman for the Patients' Rights Association, said he feared the authority would use the formulary to cut costs. Some expensive drugs now heavily subsidised might be moved into the third category, and the costs entirely passed on to patients, Mr Ho said. Patients may end up with cheaper and inferior drugs, he added. 'The authority should consult patients, who are the users, when they come up with the drug list instead of working in a black box,' he said. But he agreed patients would benefit if given the choice to use Chinese medicines.