First patients transferred to Hong Kong private hospital amid flu crisis

Unprecedented move will see almost 50 patients moved to St Teresa’s Hospital and public facilities struggle with overcrowding

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 8:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 10:13am

Up to 48 public hospital patients will be transferred to the privately-run St Teresa’s Hospital from Wednesday in an unprecedented move to ease overcrowding as Hong Kong tackles a flu crisis.

With public wards inundated with flu patients, a medical expert on Tuesday called for longer-term solutions, saying the city needed more than double the existing number of doctors in emergency departments to meet overseas standards.

While 363 severe flu cases have been recorded so far this summer, public hospitals also saw 1,065 people admitted through emergency departments on Monday, taking the overall occupancy rate to 110 per cent.

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The government is asking private hospitals to share the burden.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, one of the worst affected, will start transferring stable patients who are recovering from surgeries to St Teresa’s in Kowloon City.

The arrangement, under which the hospital provides 48 cheaper beds, will last for two months.

Dr Ho Hiu-fai, president of the Hong Kong College of Emergency Medicine, said the number of cases handled by each doctor in the city’s hospital emergency departments was too high.

“Each doctor in Hong Kong has to handle around 5,000 cases per year. But in the UK and Singapore, each doctor has to handle 2,500 cases yearly,” Ho said.

Referring to statistics from 2013, when the city had 447 doctors in public emergency rooms, Ho expected the number would have to increase to 1,060 to ease the load and improve services in the long run. The number could be even higher, given the latest situation, he said.

Ho said the manpower problem could extend to specialist training of emergency medicine doctors in public hospitals. In one unprecedented case, a doctor was advised by the department head to skip a specialist examination in order to help in the busy emergency room.

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Ho said four to five hospitals had also cancelled routine training courses to have manpower on hand for extra service demands.

“The college was concerned ... I hope training of specialists will not be affected by [extra service demands] during the flu peak,” he said.

A Hospital Authority spokesman said manpower in accident and emergency departments had increased over the past few years. As of March, 479 doctors work at the public emergency rooms.

A Department of Health spokesman said strict hygiene and vaccination remained the most effective means against flu.

“Members of the public and travellers are urged to stay vigilant and calm, but not panic,” he said.

Health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee visited United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong on Tuesday to get a firsthand feel of the workload that frontline staff are saddled with during the peak flu season.