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Health and wellness

Extra 500 beds for Hong Kong’s public hospitals, but not enough for winter flu, authority admits

Hospital Authority announces additional beds for public facilities after summer flu outbreak leaves many stretched to breaking point

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 4:59pm

An extra 500 beds announced on Thursday for Hong Kong’s overcrowded public hospitals will not be enough to cope with the winter flu season, authorities have conceded.

The increase by the Hospital Authority, which manages public hospitals in the city, will be implemented by January next year, but will fall short of the estimated 1,500 additional beds needed to meet anticipated demand.

The figure amounts to less than 2 per cent of the 28,000 beds in public hospitals citywide.

The announcement came after Hong Kong’s Department of Health on Wednesday declared an end to the summer flu season, during which the city’s overloaded public health care system was stretched to breaking point.

Public medical wards across the city saw occupancy rates of up to 130 per cent – meaning temporary beds had to be laid out in corridors. Patients classed as non urgent at accident and emergency units complained they had been forced to wait more than 10 hours in some cases before seeing a doctor.

“The three months from September will be a chance to catch our breath,” said Dr Alan Cheung Wai-lun, director of cluster services for the Hospital Authority.

He said the authority would be better prepared for upcoming winter flu cases, and he promised a detailed preparation plan in December.

The summer flu season killed 428 adults and three children between May 5 and Wednesday. Some 595 cases were classed as severe. As the outbreak reached its peak in early July, some 2,000 extra beds were drafted in at public hospitals.

Summer flu season in Hong Kong is ending, senior health official says

About 4,500 medical staff worked at least 126,000 extra hours between June and late August, Cheung said. Hospitals would need at least 1,500 extra beds to cope with the jump in demand during flu seasons as well as an additional 2,000 permanent beds to reduce the occupancy rate to below 100 per cent.

Most of the extra beds will be added to hospitals in Kowloon and the New Territories where new facilities are being built and old ones are undergoing renovation, such as in Tin Shui Wai.

“To put the 500 beds into service as soon as possible, we will at first set them up in January next year as short-term beds,” Cheung said.

“Once newly graduated doctors and nurses are on board after summer, they will be gradually turned into permanent beds.”

Hong Kong health officials to review whether ‘buying beds’ at private hospitals to ease flu crisis should be standard practice

Cheung said he was not worried about manpower as the sector was looking forward to more than 170 doctors and between 800 and 900 nurses joining public hospitals in the coming year as they complete their training.

Besides beefing up services at public facilities, the Hospital Authority has also been in talks with private hospitals including St Teresa’s and Adventist to improve arrangements for sharing some of the flu workload.

During the summer flu peak, 35 patients at two public hospitals were transferred to St Teresa’s, which signed a contingency agreement with the authority to lease 48 beds at a unit price of HK$1,300 per day for use by public flu patients.