Hong Kong prides itself on a world-class public health system. But in one important aspect, staffing, it is under pressure to meet expectations. This is not to question the quality and dedication of doctors, nurses and health professionals. It is to acknowledge that there is simply not enough of them. The shortage puts a strain on the professional standards of medical care the system sets itself and does nothing for the morale of its workforce – its greatest asset. As a result, many find greener pastures in the private sector or foreign health systems, where there are ready markets for their skills. This appears an increasingly intractable problem. Evidence of that is to be found in the Hospital Authority’s latest initiative to retain staff . It is a low-interest housing loan scheme that would enable employees to borrow up to HK$6 million capped at 48 months’ salary at 1 per cent interest to help buy a flat. It is a generous improvement on a once-popular home-loan interest subsidy scheme. But whether it is the right diagnosis and treatment of the problem is another question. Representatives of frontline doctors and nurses doubt it will help much. At best it could slow the attrition rates of doctors (6.2 per cent in the year to last month) and nurses (nearly 8 per cent) that have contributed to a chronic manpower problem. Hopefully, it will be an incentive to think twice about leaving while the authority addresses the harder question of long-term solutions. The issue isn’t simply about housing. Frontline medical staff have been frustrated about the working environment in public hospitals, particularly crowding and service quality. If such core issues are not solved, short-term measures might not help much. A nurses’ spokesman said a survey earlier this year showed people were not leaving the health sector merely because they could not afford to buy a home. There were long-term grievances such as the need to boost the manpower ratio and better allocation of resources. Uncertainty attributed to sociopolitical changes since the 2019 protests has done nothing to stem the attrition, or to help measures to plug the manpower shortage, such as raising the retirement age for doctors, making it easier for graduates of non-local medical schools to practise in Hong Kong, and a better career path for nurses. As part of a pattern of initiatives, the housing scheme is headed in the right direction. But it is incremental and palliative. Amid an ageing society and the ever-rising cost of modern medical treatment, maintaining a world-class system for most of the population is a daunting challenge. But it is key to Hong Kong’s competitiveness. It means coming to terms with a level of investment in hospitals, medical science and human resources that will make increasing demands on public finances.