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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Help ease strain on hospitals during flu season

  • As a growing number of patients overloads the health system ahead of Lunar New Year, the public should consider alternatives to accident and emergency departments for minor ailments
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 9:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 4:58am

When peak winter flu season clashes with Lunar New Year it puts pressure on hospitals. Many doctors like taking a break then, exacerbating the patient overload on the public system. With less than four weeks to go, the system faces the possibility of unprecedented demand during the holiday period.

Medical wards reported an average occupancy rate of 115 per cent on Sunday, meaning that for every 100 patients accommodated in a ward, there was an overflow of 15. They coped with it by squeezing temporary cots along corridors or between beds.

The winter peak two years ago prompted the government to bring forward Lunar New Year school holidays in an attempt to stem the spread of infection.

During the summer peak in 2017 long waits to see doctors and for admission to wards prompted officials to negotiate the fallback of using beds in private hospitals. At this stage of the current outbreak neither option can be ruled out if it worsens.

Hong Kong flu season worse than last year, with 9 more deaths in 3 days

At accident and emergency wards this year, non-urgent patients have complained of having to wait more than eight hours in some of the busiest hospitals. Tim Pang Hung-cheong, spokesman for the Patients’ Rights Association, has already urged the government to seek more help from private hospitals.

The most effective response remains the timely production and delivery of vaccine targeting the latest flu virus. In that regard it was a concern that public vaccinations were suspended temporarily in November after it was revealed 75,000 doses had been administered from a batch of 175,000 containing impurities from a French manufacturer. Thankfully there have been no reports of adverse reactions.

This winter flu season, which began on December 30, may be deadlier than last year, with health department figures showing more severe cases and deaths at the same stage.

Greater public awareness has resulted in more people being vaccinated, but given that it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies, time is running out to get protection for the Lunar New Year.

Since the peak flu season typically lasts about a month, the worst may be over by then. But it will help accident and emergency departments cope with serious cases if those with minor ailments seek alternative health care services.