HKU's HK$200m bill for mainland hospital

Pioneering initiative in Shenzhen intended to promote reform of the medical culture faces crisis after two years in row over expenses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 4:09am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 4:09am

The University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen hospital which opened in Futian two years ago with the aim of reforming the medical culture on the mainland is in crisis, with the Shenzhen government and the local university arguing over who should pay for the hospital's debts.

Professor Lo Chung-mau, head of surgery at both the hospital and HKU, said it had just 11 operating theatres and 500 beds, which meant the hospital was only working at about a quarter of its capacity. He said arguments over financing that began at the end of last year had stopped the hospital from growing and were threatening its survival.

"There are now about 900 mainland staff members in the hospital, about one fifth of the full requirement… we were told at the end of last year that recruitment should stop. Now there aren't enough nurses and we can't open more wards," he said.

His comments came as HKU revealed it had spent HK$200 million on clinical management and supervision at the hospital. Ming Pao reported that the university's chances of recovering the sum were in doubt as Shenzhen deputy mayor Wu Yihuan was said to have stated HKU would be repaid only when the hospital was financially viable.

Lo said the Shenzhen government and HKU had differing views about their commitments: the university expects the government to pay all expenses in the first five years of operation, while Shenzhen is willing to pay only part of the figure based on patient numbers.

The dispute left the hospital in a difficult financial position, as its primary aim was to help reform medical care which meant breaking even was not on the agenda, Lo argued.

Hospitals on the mainland have maximum prices for various operations, prompting many doctors to prescribe unnecessary medicines to boost fees and creating a culture where doctors expect red lai see packets of cash. The HKU hospital refuses to follow these practices, Lo said.

"HKU is not there to make money. We are there to provide medical services of good quality. As a venue to reform medical procedures in Shenzhen and on the mainland, the Shenzhen government is obliged to solve the funding problem," he said.

Another HKU staff member who asked to remain anonymous said the project was a high-risk one and internal views over its prospects remained divided. A worst-case exit plan should be prepared, the person said.

An HKU spokesman said the university's council agreed several months ago to commission an independent consultancy to make recommendations on the hospital's development. The report is to be considered at a council meeting today.

The HK$200 million incurred "has not and would not involve public funding" and is expected to be settled by the board of the hospital, in accordance with the collaboration agreement. He added that the hospital had provided many benefits, making it a "multi-winning project".