Unused spaces and delayed services – North Lantau Hospital slammed after official audit
Report states that more than a fifth of hospital was left idle while up to five medical services failed to launch on intended dates
Medical services were delayed while others had been left unused for more than four years at North Lantau Hospital because of a manpower shortage, Hong Kong’s Audit Commission said on Wednesday.
A report by the city’s official auditor stated that more than a fifth of total floor area in the hospital was vacant or used for unintended purposes such as storage. Other findings include delays in the launch of up to five types of medical services at the hospital.
According to the Director of Audit paper, as of June this year, three of the delayed services were still not in operation. They comprise 120 inpatient beds, gynaecology and paediatric clinics, as well as 20-day bed facilities at the day surgery centre.
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Costing HK$1.9 billion, the construction of the first part of the two-phase North Lantau Hospital development was completed in 2012, to cope with the island’s population growth, which was projected to rise from 100,000 in 2006 to 123,300 in 2016.
A total of 180 inpatient beds at the hospital was planned based on projected figures when the Legislative Council approved funding for the project.
“After four years of operation, only 40 out of the 180 planned inpatient beds are in use now, which is ridiculous,” Kwok Ka-ki, who is a lawmaker and doctor, said. “It is very disheartening to patients.”
A shortage in manpower and competing needs among different hospitals are the main reasons behind the delay and underutilisation at North Lantau, the Hospital Authority, which manages the 42 public hospitals in Hong Kong, told the Audit Commission.
Since the economic downturn in the late 1990s, the sector had been plagued by labour shortfall, as the number of local medical graduates dropped to a low of 250 in 2011 before rebounding to 320 in 2015, the Hospital Authority said.
By the end of March this year, the report stated that North Lantau Hospital only had 397 staff members – 61 per cent of the headcount needed for full operations.
The audit also found that 1,044 residents and 899 children had to travel to Princess Margaret Hospital, 27km away, for treatment in gynaecology and paediatrics respectively because of service delays at North Lantau.
In a statement, the Hospital Authority said it agreed with the Audit Commission’s findings and would “closely monitor the progress of commissioning of services at completed hospital projects”.
This would ensure “better utilisation” of new hospital buildings and medical equipment, the authority added.
The Audit Commission also found that in 2007, the Hospital Authority underestimated the redevelopment cost of the Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po by 41 per cent, or HK$501.5 million. As construction costs rose, Legco’s Finance Committee approved plans in 2011 to increase the budget from HK$1.21 billion to HK$1.72 billion.