Hong Kong health care and hospitals

HK$500 million cash injection to be used on extra beds, staff and allowances, says Hong Kong hospitals boss

Hospital Authority chief executive Leung Pak-yin will use the funding to ease overloading and improve staffing amid winter flu surge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 11:40pm

Hong Kong’s public hospitals are adding temporary beds, hiring more part-time staff and raising allowances after receiving an extra HK$500 million (US$64 million) from the government as they struggle to cope with a deluge of winter flu cases, the hospital chief said.

The plan, which was made possible by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s sudden announcement of extra cash on Tuesday, came as another child suffered serious flu-related complications.

The 15-year-old girl was admitted to United Christian Hospital on Tuesday and transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit, the Centre for Health Protection said on Wednesday.

In the year to date, there have been 163 severe cases of flu so far this year, including 85 deaths. Nine cases were children, with two dying.

High demand has stretched public hospitals to breaking point, with patients complaining of a wait of up to 10 hours in the emergency units and the occupancy rate at medical wards soaring to 130 per cent – meaning temporary beds have had to be laid along the corridors.

Hospital Authority chief executive Leung Pak-yin announced on Wednesday how he would use the extra funding to ease overloading and improve staffing. “We will make the honorarium system more flexible … to raise morale and increase incentives,” Leung said.

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The authority had opened 564 time-limited beds during the ongoing winter surge with plans for 136 more – taking up the full 700 quota – during the Lunar New Year period in about two weeks, said Tony Ko Pat-sing, who is deputising as director of cluster services.

Some 200 beds at elderly care homes operated by the Social Welfare Department would be available from Thursday for those who were fit to be discharged but had to stay in public hospitals because of inadequate home care.

In addition, 21 doctors, 1,248 nurses and 112 speciality services and supporting staff had been hired on a temporary basis to cope with the capacity stretch. Another 46 part-time doctor applications were being handled, Ko said.

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Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said earlier on Wednesday that the additional funding was “really for short-term measures in terms of increasing nursing manpower in the HA, especially during this winter surge period”.

She added: “For the medium to long term, I think it is more important to have better planning.”

Chan said she had already asked the authority to provide a report on the shortfall in nurses, whether the baseline was enough to cope with the expanding or increasing services and the number of patients going to public hospitals.

After receiving the report, the Food and Health Bureau would revisit the situation on nursing manpower, and perhaps that of other health care professionals, Chan said.

Leung said he would discuss the details of how the HK$500 million would be spent with Chan at their meeting on Thursday and release the plan soon to the public.

He admitted that cash compensation could not entirely solve manpower shortages.

“Sometimes my colleagues told me that it was not about money but they were too tired to work any more. With better compensation supported by the extra grant, hopefully we can encourage our staff to go an extra mile because public hospitals cannot turn incoming patients away,” Leung said.

Lam’s decision was prompted by a letter health sector lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long had sent on behalf of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, the city’s biggest nurses’ group.

The association ran a full-page newspaper advertisement last Thursday urging officials to put more resources into tackling the staff shortage at overburdened public hospitals.