Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Student intakes ramped up as Hong Kong grapples with chronic shortage of doctors, nurses and dentists

Health chief Sophia Chan says final numbers for increases, which include allied disciplines, will be announced by Education Bureau

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 10:48pm

From next September, the city’s medical, nursing and dentistry schools will boost their student intakes to fix the severe manpower shortage in the health care sector, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee confirmed on Thursday.

Intakes for allied medical disciplines would also increase, she said, adding: “The final number will be announced by the Education Bureau.”

The University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University train the city’s doctors, nurses, dentists and related disciplines. In the 2017/18 academic year, their combined first-year intake was 470 for medicine, 625 for nursing and 72 for dentistry.

Hong Kong’s crowded public hospitals are often stretched to breaking point especially during the flu season when medical wards are full, temporary beds often spill into corridors, and patients wait at least three hours to see doctors at public hospitals and outpatient clinics.

Adding to chronic staffing shortages was the brain drain of experienced doctors moving to the more lucrative private sector. Last year, a record number of doctors left public hospitals, with a turnover rate of 5.7 per cent.

The Hospital Authority, which runs Hong Kong’s 43 public hospitals and institutions providing over 28,000 beds, said on Thursday it would recruit the 420 medical graduates this year to meet its shortage of 300 doctors.

In its annual report this year, it said it would recruit 2,230 nurses and 540 allied health professionals.

Hong Kong’s fast-ageing population has also put more pressure on the city’s health care system.

The government last year said in a health care manpower report it had a general shortage of doctors, dentists, dental hygienists, general nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, medical laboratory technologists, optometrists and radiographers.

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Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced in his budget speech in February that the government was discussing with the University Grants Committee (UGC) further increases in publicly funded training places for doctors, dentists, nurses and allied professionals for the coming three years.

Over the past decade, the number of UGC-funded health care training places had risen by about 60 per cent to almost 1,800 annually, of which the number of bachelor's degree places in medicine had increased from 250 to 470, he said. Tuition fees for all UGC-funded Bachelor Degree programmes are currently HK$42,100 per year for local students.

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Sophia Chan, a nursing professor at HKU before joining the government, said several factors had to be considered when deciding the additional number of places.

“First of all, according to the report, we have a supply shortage. Secondly, the teaching facilities of the universities. In the recent budget speech, the financial secretary already pledged resources for the three universities to build up more teaching facilities in preparation for the increase in the number of these health care professional students,” she said.

“Thirdly, the training curriculum of many of these health care professionals involves clinical practicum. Therefore, we also have to liaise with practicum sites, such as hospitals under the Hospital Authority, to provide adequate clinical education for all these students.”

HKU said it would “continue as before to work with the government on its proposal to increase the intake of medical students in providing appropriate software and hardware facilities to serve and for the benefit of Hong Kong society.”

CUHK, which is currently training 235 medical and 197 nursing students, welcomed the move, saying it was “a long-term strategy to address the shortage of health care personnel”.

Poly U, which has 173 nursing students, said: “We believe that the initiative can help ease the demand for healthcare manpower of Hong Kong.”

Under the latest budget, government spending on public health care services would rise to HK$71.2 billion (US$9.1 billion) for 2018-19, a 13.3 per cent rise on the previous year. The Hospital Authority also received an additional HK$200 billion for its hospital development programme.