A special group may be set up to persuade overstaying patients to leave hospital, the health minister said yesterday. The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that it cost the Hospital Authority $117 million a year to subsidise patients who occupied hospital beds even though they were fit enough to be discharged. Frontline doctors at public hospitals based the estimate on 5 per cent of 4,000 rehabilitation and convalescent beds being occupied unnecessarily at a cost of $1,670 a day, with patients paying only $68. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said overstaying patients had an adverse effect on the running of public hospitals as resources were limited. 'Anyone who stays in hospital longer than necessary jeopardises the services for other patients,' Dr Chow said. He said that doctors and nurses were usually reluctant to persuade patients to go home, or to confront a patient's family. Doctors said some families acted for 'financial reasons' by insisting their elderly relatives stayed in hospital, which was cheaper than placing them in homes. 'So we believe a committee that would have an unbiased view ... will be able to help,' he said. He added that ways of providing 'a disincentive' for patients to stay in hospital for longer than necessary were being considered. Public doctors have called on the Hospital Authority to charge full medical costs for those who blatantly abuse public resources.