Accreditation scheme aimed at raising health care standards The government will begin independent assessment and accreditation of public hospitals, at a cost of about HK$1,000 per bed, in a bid to improve service quality and reduce medical blunders. The first phase of the programme will involve three or four hospitals, with the first accreditations to follow in about two years. Officials are as yet undecided on which system to use, or who will carry out the programme, but are looking at major hospital accreditation bodies such as the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards or the Joint Commission in the United States. Hospital Authority director of quality and safety Leung Pak-ying said it was an 'irreversible trend' for public hospitals to continuously improve their services and apply international benchmarks to them. 'We are confident that with the accreditation programme, hospitals will strive to improve quality and the number of medical incidents will go down. It will help restore public confidence in public hospitals,' Dr Leung said. Hong Kong's 44 public hospitals are currently subject to internal assessment only, while the 12 private hospitals subject themselves to various international schemes such as Britain's Trent Accreditation Scheme and the US Joint Commission. Assessment looks at such areas as patient safety, service outcomes, patient records, handling of medical incidents and staff training. Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said earlier that a common accreditation scheme for all public and private hospitals in Hong Kong was needed. He has also called on private hospitals to improve quality and transparency because health care reforms will bring them more patients. Public hospitals, with limited resources and growing patient loads, have been criticised for long waiting times and medical blunders. 'We need to know where we stand internationally,' Dr Leung said. 'Hospitals in many developed countries such as Australia, the UK and the US have external accreditation and we do not see why Hong Kong should not follow.' An open tender will be called later this year for the pilot programme, which will then be expanded gradually to cover all public hospitals. Accreditations will be carried out every four years. Overseas experience shows that external accreditation of a 1,000-bed hospital costs about HK$1,000 per bed per year. Dr Leung admitted there were concerns among health staff that such costs would draw funding away from services. Some hospital executives had questioned whether an external agency would know enough about the local system. 'Sure, there are different views about it,' he said. 'We will assure staff that we will not direct existing resources to the accreditation programme. Costs will also decrease when more hospitals join the scheme.' Dr Leung also said the long-term goal was for Hong Kong to develop its own accreditation system. Private Hospitals' Association president Alan Lau Kwok-lam said private hospitals supported the principle of a common accreditation system but wanted more details, such as what system would be used, before agreeing to join. Public Doctors' Association president Duncan Ho Hung-kwong also supported the idea. 'It will be good to have an independent body tell us what is wrong with our system.'