To maintain drug safety, the Consumer Council warns against involving private outlets for distribution The Consumer Council has asked the Hospital Authority to continue dispensing drugs to patients instead of shifting them over to private pharmacies, to ensure drug safety. Every effort must be made to reduce the adverse impact of a new list of subsidised drugs on patients at public hospitals, Consumer Council chief executive Pamela Chan Wong-shui told the Legislative Council health services panel. She said the current dispensing mechanism had ensured a stable supply of medicines, quality of drugs and reasonable prices. 'The council supports maintaining the current arrangement, where the hospital pharmacies will provide the medicines,' she said. 'Many patients are really worried,' she told legislators. 'They do not know what sort of drugs will be included in the formulary and which drugs will be taken out.' The authority should organise better promotion of the list, to give patients a better understanding of the new policy, Ms Chan said. Under the new policy, to be introduced next month at public hospitals in Sha Tin and Tai Po, 1,273 drugs on the standard drug formulary list will be provided to patients at $10 per item for six months. Other drugs, including 26 cancer drugs, would cost more, subject to a financial means test of the patient. Allen Cheung Wai-lun, the Hospital Authority's director of professional services and operations, told the panel earlier that the authority was looking at ways to help patients who cannot afford expensive drugs. 'We are working with the industry to see if there can be any assistance to needy patients, and the Hospital Authority is also discussing with the insurance industry the feasibility of new insurance plans to facilitate patients' choice in drug use,' he said. In a written submission, the council said patients should be allowed enough time to finish their existing medicines before switching to the new arrangement. It called for better transparency about the list, and for medicine labels to be bilingual. The council received 102 complaints about medicine in 2003, 78 last year and 37 in the first five months of this year. Of the 78 complaints last year, 26 related to quality of the medicine, 15 to marketing strategies and 10 to mislabelling. Also at the Legco panel meeting yesterday, Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Susie Ho Shuk-yee said there was only one option left to dissuade mainland women from giving birth in Hong Kong then absconding without paying their medical bills. The law could be amended to allow a public official to seek a court direction, to the immigration director, to prevent an absconder from re-entering Hong Kong. The Hospital Authority, meantime, has proposed the adoption of pre-set ranges of consultation fees for public hospital patients who wish to use private doctors.