22 February 2019
Patients sometimes have to wait three hours to get their prescriptions from our public hospitals due to the shortage of pharmacists. Photo: haikuhealth
Patients sometimes have to wait three hours to get their prescriptions from our public hospitals due to the shortage of pharmacists. Photo: haikuhealth

Public hospitals need massive dose of improvement

In recent years, Hong Kong has witnessed a continued deterioration in the quality of service of our public healthcare system, causing mounting concern among the public over whether our government is still capable of taking care of the health of its citizens.

For example, between 2013 and 2014, a total of 49 severe medical accidents and 94 medical mishaps that involved high health risks were recorded in public hospitals, the highest number since 2007.

In October 2007, the Hospital Authority (HA) introduced a new and unified reporting mechanism on medical accidents and mishaps into our public hospitals. It has failed to prevent medical accidents in public hospitals from running rife.

Apparently, there must be something else going wrong with our public healthcare service which leads to a continued surge in medical accidents.

And if you ask any frontline nurse or doctor about the root cause for the increasingly rampant medical accidents in public hospitals, I bet their answers are very likely to be the same: serious lack of staff.

In fact, it is not news that over the years our public hospitals have been plagued by an acute shortage of nurses, doctors and other medical workers specializing in different fields, and the situation is just getting worse, not least because the HA has remained obsessed with building new hospitals and purchasing new equipment while ignoring the importance of nurturing talent and recruiting new blood.

Figures provided by the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff might give you an idea of how badly things are going on in our public hospitals: for example, the average nurse-to-patient staff ratios in our public hospital is 1:11, and usually 1:23 during night shifts, almost five to six times worse than the international standard of 1:4 to 6.

On the other hand, a physiotherapist often has to treat as many as 20 patients in a single shift, not to mention that the shortage of pharmacists has led to prolonged waiting time of patients for their prescribed drugs.

Unfortunately, the Report on the Strategic Review on Health Care Manpower Planning and Professional Development published by the HA last month is simply missing the point and fails to address the fundamental issue of severe staff shortages in our public hospitals.

As such, I strongly urge the HA to tackle the issue of staff shortage in our public hospitals immediately by enhancing staff retention and stepping up its efforts in recruiting new medical workers through measures like improving the current nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, scrapping the wage freeze for newly hired staffers, making sure salaries are commensurate with qualifications and experience, as well as substantially improving the employment conditions and promotion opportunities for medical workers.

It is time for the HA to take massive and decisive action to address the issue.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 12

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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