Hong Kong public hospitals need additional 100 internal medicine doctors, college says

College of Physicians expresses concern about pressure on doctors amid peak flu season and ageing population

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 10:08am

The city’s public hospitals are facing a shortage of at least 100 doctors specialising in internal medicine amid growing demand arising from the peak flu season and the ageing population, according to the Hong Kong College of Physicians.

College president Professor Philip Li Kam-tao, who revealed the statistics on Tuesday, called on the government to hire more public doctors as the existing number had failed to catch up with the growth in patient numbers over the past few years.

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Doctors working in internal medicine are said to be significantly overloaded at a time when the city is being hit with the summer flu peak. A total of 427 patients have either died or been admitted to intensive care units because of severe flu.

Li said currently each doctor had to take care of up to 25 patients in a medical ward, while an ideal ratio should be 12 to 15 patients.

Official statistics show that a total of 1,081 people were admitted to public medical wards through emergency units on Monday, more than the average 850 patients received during non-peak periods. The overall bed occupancy rate stood at 112 per cent.

“In some hospitals, the number of extra beds added to medical wards could fill up an additional three to four wards,” Li said, adding that each ward accommodated around 40 beds.

While the number of patients treated at internal medicine specialist clinics had increased by 20 per cent, from close to 600,000 in 2011 to more than 720,000 last year, the number of doctors in that speciality had only increased by 15 per cent, Li said.

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There has also been a 23 per cent increase in the number of occupied bed days for inpatients in medical wards, from 2.48 million to 3.06 million days.

The Hospital Authority has hired only 72 doctors for internal medicine so far this year compared with 91 last year and 93 in 2015.

“If the working environment or workload in the medical wards is not improving but continues to worsen, we are worried that green doctors will consider [joining other specialities],” Li said.

While the consultation time with patients has been reduced, Li said it was also getting more difficult for doctors to take leave for speciality examinations.

An authority spokeswoman said the authority expected the manpower problem to ease when an additional 420 medical graduates complete their internship training in 2019.