Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong health crisis in need of long-term cure

The extra HK$500 million cash injection to help public hospitals cope with the winter flu outbreak is welcome, but a manpower shortage must also be tackled

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 4:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 5:13am

The cash-rich Hong Kong government has stepped in with an extra HK$500 million (US$63.9 million) injection to help public hospitals cope with an unusually severe winter flu outbreak this year. Belated as it is, the funding is a much-needed shot in the arm for our heavily overloaded health care system.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has responded to the crisis with the right sense of urgency.

The additional funding, to be drawn from the Hospital Authority’s reserve and reimbursed from the public coffers in the next financial year, is a practical way to get around an otherwise cumbersome funding approval procedure.

The move to scrap the ban on giving salary increments to newly recruited and promoted staff in the first two years is also a good way to boost staff morale.

HK$500 million cash injection to be used on extra beds, staff and allowances

That the intervention came only after nurses had gone public with their frustration with the manpower crunch is to be regretted.

This is not the first time the public sector has had to deal with a flu outbreak in the community. A similar crisis last summer exposed the gaps in our response system. They are sadly not addressed as a matter of priority until there is another outbreak.

The health chief acknowledged a shortage of 200 nursing staff; but offered no concrete ways to fill the vacuum. This is hardly reassuring.

Although daily attendances at emergency units in public hospitals have eased from some 6,300 late last week to 5,800 early this week, the overall bed occupancy rate is still hovering uncomfortably around 110 per cent.

The “war zones” in some hospitals, as described by frontline staff, do not square with our image as a city with world-class medical facilities.

The prevailing crisis is just one of the symptoms of our ailing health care system. A broader issue is the long-standing imbalance in the workload and pay between public and private hospitals. As long as the gap remains, the situation may well prevail.

The good news is that our robust fiscal health has put the government in a better position to tackle the problem. Instead of responding with knee-jerk actions, officials should strive to tackle the manpower shortage and other issues once and for all.