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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

Hong Kong’s Chinese medicine doctors ‘could help during flu crisis’

Hospital Authority says clinics offering traditional remedies have not seen the steep rise in demand witnessed by doctors at mainstream hospitals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 2:40pm

The city’s 18 government-supported Chinese medicine clinics could take up to 30 per cent more patients than they are currently, to help with the overload at public hospitals caused by the summer flu peak period, a senior Hospital Authority official has said.

Eric Ziea Tat-chi, chief of the authority’s Chinese medicine department, said traditional remedies could help alleviate some symptoms of the illness, but that his doctors had not had anything like the huge increase in demand seen at mainstream public hospitals lately.

Ziea’s announcement came as doctors and nurses struggle to cope with throngs of patients hit by a summer flu strain that has killed more than 200 people since May.

On Sunday, emergency rooms at mainstream public hospitals dealt with 5,562 people and admitted 831, helping to push the occupancy rate at medical wards up to 110 per cent of capacity.

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The 18 public Chinese medicine centres – jointly managed by the authority, three local universities and 10 non-governmental organisations – got more than 27,300 visits for flu symptoms from April 1 to last Thursday, or just under 250 per day. Ziea said the number of flu patients his clinics treated was up by 1.5 per cent on the same period last year.

“We haven’t seen a massive influx of patients yet. We would closely monitor with the operating NGOs and adjust operating hours and manpower if necessary,” Ziea said.

The 18 clinics handled more than 1.1 million patient visits last year, or an average of about 5,000 visits per clinic each month.

As the authority’s Chinese medicine outpatient services provide only 1.1 per cent of primary care services in the city, Ziea said he expected there would be room to treat more patients with the current level of manpower.

The rest of the city’s primary care mostly comes from private general practitioners, who provide 56.8 per cent of it, with the remainder almost entirely coming from mainstream public hospitals and private Chinese medicine practitioners.

“Our outpatient clinics should be able to absorb 20 to 30 per cent more patient visits,” Ziea said. “There should not be a problem with extending service hours too.”

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While Ziea said there was no scientific evidence that Chinese medicine was more effective than its Western equivalent at treating flu, he said experience from practitioners showed the traditional Chinese approach helped relieve symptoms like prolonged coughing and unresolved sputum.

Professor Chen Wei, chief of Chinese medicine service at Yan Chai Chinese Medicine Centre for Training and Research, said the surge in flu cases this summer was due to “abnormal weather”.

“It is really hot and humid this summer, with an unusually high amount of rainfall,” Chen said. “Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the cause of flu is related to the environment.”

Chen said unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits, like staying up late at night or drinking too many cold drinks, could make the body more vulnerable to flu.

He said brewing tea from chrysanthemum, mint and perillae folium together, with 3 grams of each ingredient, and taking it three to five times weekly, could help prevent flu during the summer.