HK’s large fiscal reserves could help boost public health services

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 6:53pm

It is not hard to see that Hong Kong’s health-care system is in trouble when you walk down a hallway at any public hospital and notice the long queues for medical services.

This problem of overcrowding is simply due to the large numbers of individuals requesting treatment and the shortfall in the number of public hospitals and manpower.

“Fiscal reserves are estimated to hit HK$952 billion by March 2018”, Hong Kong’s new financial secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po, announced in his first budget on February 22.

Investing in the public health system for a better society is a worthy goal. “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” is considered a fundamental human right under the World Health Organisation Constitution.

Reports warn that Hong Kong will face a health care crisis by 2026 as there will not be enough beds to cover patient demand.

Indeed, we do not need to wait until 2026 to see that, as we can experience the supply-demand imbalance during the peak flu season each year. Ironically, there are usually a number of peak flu seasons in Hong Kong, meaning the number of beds can never cover patient demand.

Managed by the Hospital Authority, the city has 42 public hospitals under different clusters, with 2,065 beds from the Hong Kong East Cluster, 2,860 from Hong Kong West, 3,029 from Kowloon Central, 2,331 from Kowloon East, 5,244 from Kowloon West, 3,610 from New Territories East and 2,448 from New Territories West – for a total of 32,587 general beds citywide.

According to government statistics, the projected population for the two New Territories clusters (Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Sha Tin, Tai Po, North) will be over two million in 2021, but with only 5.2 beds per 1,000 geographical population. The Kowloon and Hong Kong clusters will have 11.5 and 8.6 beds, respectively. This means new hospitals or the expansion of existing hospitals in the New Territories cluster is required.

With its continued fiscal surpluses, the Hong Kong government should stop being conservative in spending or deciding where the money should be spent. Instead of building unpopular infrastructure, new medical policies to incorporate the excessive fiscal reserves should be developed.

June Ng, Yuen Long