Over the past couple of months, our city has witnessed a deadly and unusual flu outbreak, with the summer peak season arriving earlier than in previous years, resulting in over 200 deaths. It wasn’t until last week that the outbreak eventually appeared to be stabilizing.
At the height of the outbreak, some public hospitals were overcrowded by a whopping 120 percent, and patients often had to wait an average of eight hours before they could receive treatment at the accident and emergency department (A&E). And for patients whose condition required admission to hospital, most of them had to wait more than 15 hours before getting a bed at the in-patient ward.
In fact, the same chaotic situation took place back in March 2016 when a flu outbreak of similar proportions was under way. Unfortunately, bureaucrats in charge of the Hospital Authority (HA) apparently have failed to learn that painful lesson and allowed the same disaster to repeat itself this year thanks to their inaction, indecision and half-heartedness in addressing problems.
During the spring flu outbreak last year, the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff published an open letter proposing a number of emergency measures to the HA in order to tackle the crisis, such as enhancing flexibility in transferring resources among our public hospitals, retaining existing medical staff and hiring more, cutting down on the amount of unnecessary paper work of front-line doctors and nurses, and strictly enforcing the triage system (i.e. the sorting of patients into priority categories) in the A&Es.
The HA accepted some of our suggestions, and formulated a 12-point plan to streamline A&E and in-patient services. At the time, the HA vowed to carry out the plan as soon as possible.
However, the recent chaos in our public hospitals amid the ongoing flu outbreak indicate a harsh fact: more than one year after the previous flu outbreak, the HA has basically done nothing in implementing that 12-point plan, something that it has promised to do.
How could the HA justify having an annual budget of HK$57 billion and another HK$200 billion earmarked for expanding hospital facilities in taxpayers’ money when the overall standard of care in our public hospitals has seen no improvement whatsoever?
I strongly urge the HA to adopt emergency measures to enhance the efficiency of our public healthcare services such as immediately reducing the heavy administrative workload of our front-line medical workers as well as establishing nurse-led clinics and introducing clinical pharmacists to our public hospitals in order to reduce the workflow burden on doctors.
In the long run, the government must drastically review the redundant organizational structure, bloated bureaucracy and chaotic management of the HA and take all necessary measures to make the organization viable, effective and efficient again.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 1
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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