Hong Kong has the resources to offer more and better health care

The recent deaths of two children from flu, blamed by some on delays in tests and treatment, offers an opportunity for affluent city to review its system

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 11:43pm

When it comes to saving lives, every minute counts. Those who are entrusted with such responsibility are expected to provide suitable treatment in a professional and timely manner. Delays and mistakes should be avoided whenever possible.

Unfortunately, human errors and resource constraints do exist. Even the best health care systems cannot avoid medical blunders. Our public hospitals are no exception. At least two families have criticised the Hospital Authority during the past week for delays in tests and treatment for their children. A six-year-old boy and a 17-month-old girl came down with influenza A and eventually died last month and in February, respectively.

Flu death: in second such complaint in two days, toddler’s parents say Hong Kong hospital delayed test and treatment

That early diagnosis and treatment might have made a difference is just a hypothesis. The flu test in question has only about 70 per cent accuracy. But the families are entitled to ask whether delayed treatment contributed to the loss of lives. In the case of the six-year-old, he had to wait for more than 10 hours to undergo tests and be prescribed Tamiflu, as laboratory tests are generally only available during the day.

The truth is that influenza can lead to serious complications and even deaths in both high-risk and healthy individuals. Since January, 397 severe adult cases – including 198 deaths – have been recorded in the city. Separately, 25 cases of severe paediatric influenza-associated complications or deaths were recorded during the period, according to the Centre for Health Protection.

Inquest for Hong Kong boy who died after ‘delayed treatment’

That said, the Hospital Authority cannot simply dismiss the concerns of those who lost loved ones. Health officials maintained the cases were handled according to the established mechanism. But it is hardly comforting news when simple medical procedures such as flu tests are not available around the clock. There is no reason why we cannot provide more timely treatment to patients. The promise to look into the existing mechanism is a step in the right direction. For an affluent city like Hong Kong, we can certainly afford to do more and better.