Face Off: Should public hospitals impose $200 emergency services fee?

YP ReporterVeronica Lin

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic. This week...

YP ReporterVeronica Lin |

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The emergency wards of local hospitals can be crowded by patients.

Joseph Ho Hei-chi, 20, University of Hong Kong

Anyone who has ever visited a public hospital in Hong Kong knows how time-consuming it can be. First, a nurse will check you out, then you might have to wait for more than three to five hours, or even 10 hours, during a very busy day, if you’re not in urgent need of medical treatment.

For years, the demand for medical services has exceeded capacity, and the situation is going to worsen as the city’s population ages.

At the moment, people have to pay HK$100 for emergency services at government hospitals, but they’re still overcrowded.

Raising this fee to HK$200 is a very good idea. This will deter two groups of patients from choosing public hospitals – people who can afford private hospitals and those with minor illnesses.

The extra payment, in addition to the long waiting hours, may divert the well-off to private hospitals. Also, patients who suffer from headaches, back pain, or common colds may think twice before going to a public hospital.

A HK$200 emergency fee would prevent people taking advantage of low-cost heathcare. It would not make the elderly worse off. For a start, the HK$2,000 elderly health care voucher pays for around 10 hospital visits – more than enough to tackle most minor diseases. The expectation is that they’ll only go to hospital if it’s really necessary.

Excessive demand for emergency services would mean tired doctors, leading to a less-efficient and lower-quality heath service. Fewer patients will make sure those with genuine need receive the best care.

Veronica Lin, 16, Hong Kong International School

By imposing a HK$200 fee on emergency services, public hospitals in Hong Kong would pose a new challenge for patients; one that keeps out poorer residents, and also puts a price tag on human lives.

Regardless of cultural background or social status, everyone should have the right to healthcare. When someone’s life is on the line, people should be able to count on the public emergency services, instead of having to think twice before dialling 999 due to the cost.

Hongkongers who pay their taxes expect the government to look after them. Imposing fees upon those who are already stressed by the city’s hectic lifestyle would be against medical ethics, and also shows that this supposedly “open-minded” and “tolerant” city still favours the rich.

What’s more, the HK$200 emergency fee wouldn’t stop people abusing the current health services. But they only make up a small portion of Hong Kong’s seven million people; most will use their common sense and only use emergency services when absolutely necessary.

The key issue here is to educate people when and why emergency services should be used. This would relieve the burden on public hospitals, as well as make sure that valuable resources go to those who need them most, instead of denying them treatment when only a minority choose to take advantage of the system.