Joint approach to Hong Kong health is what the doctor ordered
As public hospitals look to the private sector to relieve pressure on them during peak flu seasons, such cooperation should be extended to wider care
Less than six months after turning to private hospitals to help cope with an unexpected surge in flu cases during the summer, the Hospital Authority is counting on the private medical sector to relieve the pressure again. This time, it is not waiting until a winter flu epidemic peaks and strains public hospital resources beyond their limits. It is right to move first, given overcrowding during the Christmas and New Year holiday in public accident and emergency wards, attributed to a combination of the increasing spread of flu among an ageing population and the closure of private clinics over the festive period.
This time, more part-time private doctors are to be hired and a private hospital bed-sharing plan expanded.
Already overcrowding has resulted in patients complaining of excessive waits for treatment by a doctor at the busiest public emergency wards, and temporary beds being laid out in corridors and between other beds.
The fallback of renting beds from private hospitals was rolled out last summer after the number of patients seeking help at A&E units rose to more than 6,600 in one day, more than 10 per cent up on the same period the previous year.
The authority has set up a Central Locum Office to hire private doctors to work temporarily in public hospitals, where they can choose to work on an hourly basis and in various hospitals. The authority also said it would widen a bed-sharing scheme with two private hospitals – Adventist Hospital in Tsuen Wan and St Teresa’s Hospital in Kowloon City – to include patients from medical wards and orthopaedic patients, to help raise the turnover in public wards.
It says something about the pressure on the public system that these steps are deemed necessary, even though authority chairman John Leong Chi-yan has said it would provide 200 more beds across the city on top of the 1,600 extra beds set aside in preparation for the flu season. Hopefully, public-private partnership will not remain an exception to the rule. It is the way forward in providing primary and preventive health care at the community level, and makes more efficient use of Hong Kong’s health care resources.