Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Boy, 2, in intensive care as public hospitals swamped once more by Hong Kong flu crisis

First two days of Lunar New Year saw a brief drop in demand but by Sunday the wards were packed with medical workers struggling to cope

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 7:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 1:34pm

Another young child in Hong Kong has required intensive care in hospital after suffering serious complications from flu as the city continues to be hit by a severe influenza outbreak.

The Centre for Health Protection said on Sunday it was investigating a case of severe paediatric influenza B infection involving a two-year-old boy with underlying illness who presented with cough and shortness of breath last Thursday. He was admitted to United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong on Friday and transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit on Sunday. He was in a serious condition.

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The boy’s flu was complicated by severe pneumonia. The child had not received the flu vaccine and had no recent travel history. His home contacts were asymptomatic so far.

Word of the the boy’s case came as patients flooded back into the city’s understaffed public hospitals on Sunday after a brief drop in demand around the start of the Lunar New Year. The return of the winter flu crisis in the public health system came with most private doctors closed for business over the long public holiday.

Just 97 private practitioners remained on duty over the holiday, according to a list provided by the Medical Association, but most clinics had marked up prices by as much as 30 per cent.

Long queues formed in public emergency wards with non-urgent patients complaining of having to wait up to eight hours to see a doctor.

The occupancy rate in medical wards hit an average of 104 per cent – meaning temporary beds were laid out in the corridors.

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“Both patients and nurses are extremely disturbed and disappointed by the Hospital Authority’s reactive approach in managing this year’s winter surge crisis,” said health sector legislator Joseph Lee Kok-long.

Lee, who is chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, said nurses complained of a huge workload as some wards had 20 more patients than their original capacity of 44.

Night shifts were even worse with just two nurses to take care of more than 50 patients.

“They were not able to finish their daily work even if they skipped their meal time or going to the toilet,” Lee said on RTHK radio programme Letter to Hong Kong.

Public hospitals, which care for 90 per cent of the city’s inpatients, also faced a chronic shortage of about 300 doctors.

According to official figures, from the start of the current winter influenza season on January 7 to February 14, 174 people died, including two children, out of 300 severe flu cases among all ages.

The government on February 7 announced that the city’s 1,600 kindergartens, primary and special-needs schools would close from the following day, bringing forward their Lunar New Year holiday to stem the flu outbreak.

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On Saturday, 6,372 people attended public emergency wards – a sharp increase from 5,348 on Thursday and 5,209 on Friday, the first day of the Year of the Dog.

Thursday and Friday were the first days that medical wards were below full occupancy, respectively at 93 and 97 per cent, since the flu season began last month.

But that changed on Saturday, with United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong experiencing the highest occupancy rate in its medical wards, at 121 per cent, followed by Yan Chai Hospital with 113 per cent.

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last month announced extra funding of HK$500 million (US$64.1 million) for the authority to ease the burden on public hospitals.

Lee urged hospitals to utilise the funding effectively including by establishing a staffing replacement pool to ease manpower shortages due to days off and additional beds, and revising the rate and flexibility of a special honorarium scheme to encourage staff participation.