People waiting for emergency services in less serious conditions will be advised to go to private clinics under the government’s new public-private partnership, aimed at addressing overcrowding at public hospitals. The Medical Association, the city’s largest doctors’ group, also plans to send letters to private doctors urging them to work part-time at the overcrowded public hospitals despite the low pay. Public hospitals have struggled through unprecedented demand driven by widespread flu during the winter and the persisting cold weather. Latest Hospital Authority figures showed the overall occupancy rate of hospital beds dropped slightly from 111 per cent on Wednesday to 106 per cent on Thursday. Most hospitals still have their wards filled at over 100 per cent, meaning all the beds are full, with temporary beds laid out in between and along the corridors. The number of patients at all A&E wards has dropped from a peak of over 7,000 daily to 4,761 on Thursday – just within the normal level. Dr Ho Pak-leung, a University of Hong Kong microbiologist and former president for Public Doctors’ Association, praised the new measure but criticised the authority for doing too little too late. “I believe patients who would queue at the A&E units are those who could not afford the private clinics,” Ho said. “The cooperation with the private doctors should have been discussed long ago, and in place already before the situation got worse. This is why the public would feel the authority is reacting too slowly to a crisis.” He also said the government should have provided free flu jabs in schools so children were protected against the complications after contracting flu. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said on Friday the overburdened situation had slightly eased in the past two days. “Because the temperature will drop in these two days, I anticipate attendance at A&E departments and admission to hospitals will increase again during the coming weekend as well as early next week,” Ko said. “The government has spoken with the Medical Association on cooperation. If patients’ conditions are non-urgent, they would be advised to see a community doctor.” Dr Louis Shih Tai-cho, Medical Association president, said a list of doctors and the opening times of their clinics should be posted at A&E units so patients could seek treatment elsewhere in case of a long wait – a measure requested by the association for years. “Some of these private clinics open throughout the night,” Shih said. He said he hoped the move would become regular practice, given the public sector’s chronic staff shortage. Shih pointed out a programme to recruit private doctors to work part-time at public hospitals has fallen mostly on deaf ears over the years since the wages are low – only about 70 per cent of the salary of the public doctors per hour. But he appealed fellow practitioners to take part amid this difficult time.