Public hospitals are overwhelmed by an influx of patients due to a shortage of doctors, especially those for emergency rooms (ERs).
The situation is exacerbated by the ongoing summer flu crisis, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The number of ER doctors in 17 public hospitals has increased to 479 at the end of March this year from 410 in 2013, according to the Hospital Authority.
The Hong Kong College of Emergency Medicine estimated in 2014 that the number of ER doctors should be at least 1,060, or more than double the current number.
ER doctors not only have to treat patients in urgent and non-urgent conditions but also offer outpatient clinic services and do ER ward rounds.
College president Dr. Ho Hiu-fai said the group asked the HA in 2008 and 2014 to find ways to improve the situation but no action had been taken.
As a result, during 2014, each ER doctor had to handle more than 5,000 cases on average per year based on the annual number of patients seeking emergency treatment.
The figure compares with about 2,500 on average per year in the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, Ho said.
According to Ho, who is also deputy chief executive (professional services) of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, theoretically an ER doctor needs to spend on average 30 minutes on a patient whose condition is categorized as “urgent” but there are only 15 minutes spent currently because there are too many people waiting.
Moreover, Ho said the tight manpower situation has had a negative impact on the training of ER doctors, some of whom are not licensed yet and need to attend classes to prepare for exams.
Several of the 18 training centers have decided to cancel their classes temporarily recently in the wake of the shortage of ER doctors during the peak season of the summer flu, Ho said.
Ho said an intern ER doctor had been forced to give up his exam scheduled in June after the hospital management asked him to do so to help ease the manpower shortage, Apple Daily reported.
Ho worried that continued cancellations of scheduling of ER specialty training would affect ER doctors’ quality in the long run.
In response, the HA has promised to hold a special meeting to deal with the issues regarding intern doctors’ training and manpower arrangements.
It said more doctors are being recruited to work in emergency rooms. The attrition rate of ER doctors has been between 2.8 and 4.9 percent in the past three years, lower than 5.2 percent for doctors as a whole in the past 12 months.
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