Hong Kong’s ‘war on flu’ rages on as hospitals brace for surge in patients after Lunar New Year break
After walking through a ward at a public hospital, the dean of Chinese University’s medical school said the scene was reminiscent of ‘wet markets’ and ‘battlefields’
Hong Kong’s public hospitals are bracing for a rush of patients on Tuesday after the Lunar New Year holiday, with the official in charge declaring a “protracted war” against influenza that could last until the end of May.
Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Leung Pak-yin’s warned of the fight ahead as the dean of Chinese University’s medical school, in separate comments, likened overcrowded public hospital wards to “wet markets” and “battlefields”, after visiting one last Tuesday with his students.
On Monday, Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said more patients were likely to show up at hospitals in the coming days, now that the four-day festival break was over.
She and Leung visited North District Hospital in Sheung Shui, Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai and Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung to get a first hand idea of what front line health care workers were facing during the flu surge season.
On Monday morning, patients with less severe symptoms waited for more than eight hours to see doctors at major hospitals such as Queen Elizabeth Hospital, United Christian Hospital and Prince of Wales Hospital.
“There were [fewer patients] on the first day of Lunar New Year, but there were more on the second and third days,” Chan said at North District Hospital.
“We expect on the first working day after the holiday, meaning [Tuesday] or later, there will be more patients.”
Leung added that hospitals were in a “protracted war” against the flu, with the winter peak season expected to last until the end of May.
According to the authority’s latest statistics, 6,870 people visited the accident and emergency departments at public hospitals on Sunday. The overall occupancy rate of medical inpatient beds was 111 per cent, an increase from 104 per cent on Saturday.
General outpatient clinics under the authority also opened 1,600 more appointment slots to see patients during the Lunar New Year holiday, in a bid to reduce stress on emergency departments. Another 1,000 appointment slots have also been added for the coming four weeks.
The health minister said she would meet experts from the city’s two medical schools to discuss research on flu.
“We hope to see how we can improve our research work. We would also like to understand local data for better flu prevention work,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chinese University medical school dean Professor Francis Chan Ka-leung wrote in an article that the scene at public hospital wards was similar to “wet markets” and “battlefields”.
“Every corner was filled with temporary beds. Even sinks for hand washing along the corridors were blocked by beds,” he wrote.
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“Staff in wards were very busy and had to handle emergency cases, distribute medication, take care of patients’ needs, provide explanations to patients’ relatives and fill in hospital admission or discharge records at the same time.”
He also paid tribute to health care staff in the public medical sector.
Since the start of the year to Sunday, 14 children were reported to have severe flu and two of them died. A two-year-old boy, who was the latest reported child case, remained in a serious condition on Monday at United Christian Hospital.
From January 7 to last Wednesday, 287 adults were reported sick with severe flu and 172 of them died.