Demand for beds in acute medical wards during the annual "flu period" rose by 20 per cent last winter, the Hospital Authority revealed yesterday, adding that over 200 new beds will be opened this year to ease the pressure. On one day alone in January, 1,095 patients were admitted to acute wards through public accident and emergency units, it was reported at the authority's board meeting. The authority attributed the surge to an "ageing population" and "increased complexity of patients". Compared to 2011, the daily average accident and emergency attendance from December last year to April this year increased just 1 per cent. However, there was an almost 12 per cent increase in elderly patients visiting A&E wards daily. The overall occupancy rate of medical wards remained persistently above 100 per cent. As the demand for inpatient services grows, funding has been allocated in this fiscal year to open 205 new beds. "Those beds would be mostly for acute cases, concentrated in big hospitals," said the authority's chief executive, Dr Leung Pak-yin. An extra 282 beds will be opened for six months from January, but these time-limited beds will be added into the fixed quota from July onwards. Leung said that, due to limited manpower, a special allowance would be offered to doctors to cope with the increased number of patients. Meanwhile, services in general outpatient clinics will be expanded over holiday periods. An additional 500 places will be offered at Christmas, and 1,486 more during Lunar New Year. The authority urged people to avoid unnecessary visits to hospital during the winter surge. Non-emergency operations might also be suspended or postponed. Commenting on a newly released consultation document on a voluntary health insurance scheme, authority chairman Dr John Leong Chi-yan said he believed it provided an alternative choice for the public. While 38 per cent of local people have bought medical insurance, more than half of them still opt for public hospital care. "The major goal of this scheme is not relieving the burden on the public medical sector, but to offer a good choice for people to purchase an improved insurance scheme," said Leong. He said private hospitals might provide a more comfortable experience for patients.