Private sector can't absorb surge Private hospitals will add 300 beds to meet surging demand, as public hospitals grapple with a rising workload and low staff morale. With private hospitals at capacity, the Hospital Authority is having difficulty transferring patients from the overloaded public system to private hospitals, authority sources say. Public patients receive discounted rates at private hospitals. The situation also throws into question plans by the government for better co-operation between the two sectors to meet demand. The 12 hospitals, with 3,009 beds as of early this year, have been full since late last year, said David Fang Jin-sheng, medical superintendent of St Paul's Hospital. 'Most of the private hospitals are expanding and increasing their capacity in anticipation of a higher patient load,' Dr Fang said. 'There is greater demand for private services because the Hospital Authority has a certain attrition because of budget cuts.' Private hospitals have complained in the past the government was not doing enough to boost occupancy rates. Before 1997, private hospitals had 15 per cent of the market, but by 2004 their share had shrunk to 8 per cent, with occupancy rates averaging 70 per cent. That led then-chairman of the Hong Kong Private Hospitals Association, Walton Li Wai-tat, to accuse the authority of failing to actively transfer patients to private hospitals. That co-ordination now appears more difficult to achieve. Executive Councillor Leong Che-hung told a symposium at the University of Hong Kong yesterday private hospitals were not ready to handle diverted patients because they lacked beds, staff and transparent fees. 'I would [also] like to see a proper clinical audit system so that patients could be more confident,' he said. Peter Yuen Pok-man, professor at Polytechnic University's department of management and marketing, said it was puzzling why public hospital doctors had complained of being overloaded, when his analysis found that 'doctors should have a much easier time' than in 1993 when the authority was set up. William Hsiao, a professor at Harvard University's department of health policy and management, said his 1999 financing proposals were still relevant. The report recommended two medical insurance schemes be introduced to shift more financial responsibility to patients. 'It is probably one of the best approaches for Hong Kong to do,' he said. 'Hong Kong has picked up some of the recommendations, like quality of care. It has integrated the general outpatient clinics into the HA. Some parts of it have been accepted.' Louis Shih Tai-cho, vice-president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, suggested that a 'middle-class hospital' be set up by a non-governmental organisation with land to be provided by the government. 'The middle class are the people who are becoming underprivileged,' he said.