Given our rapidly aging population, demand for public healthcare services will continue to rise. As such, one urgent task is to enhance the capacity of our healthcare system to provide medical services at the grass-roots and community levels.
Earlier this year, the government consulted members of the healthcare sector about its plan to establish nurse-led clinics in order to reduce the burden on public hospitals, particularly their accident and emergency departments (A&E).
I personally welcome this idea and I am delighted that the administration is finally heading in the right direction when it comes to providing primary healthcare services.
In fact, nurse-led clinics are nothing new. There are 229 of them in Hong Kong and they have been in operation since the early 1990s.
However, the reason these clinics are often little known to the public is that the vast majority can only be found in public hospitals and public specialist outpatient clinics.
Nurse-led clinics are clinics run by nurse practitioners and senior nurses instead of doctors that provide primary and palliative healthcare services as well as professional medical assessment and opinion for patients, thereby substantially reducing emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
In particular, nurse-led clinics have a pivotal role in monitoring the health condition of patients suffering from chronic diseases after they have been discharged from hospital and enforcing the triage system (i.e. the sorting of patients into priority categories) in the A&Es.
Given their advantages, I am in favor of setting up more nurse-led clinics.
The first and foremost thing the Hospital Authority (HA) should do is to set up nurse-led clinics in every government outpatient clinic across the territory to treat patients with minor illnesses so as to vacate clinic places for sicker patients.
On the other hand, the HA should also establish nurse-led clinics in elderly health centers. The HA can also carry out mass vaccination campaigns in the community through nurse-led clinics.
Most existing problems in our public healthcare system have their roots in the severe shortage of personnel in our public hospitals and clinics. And unless the HA addresses this core issue massively, immediately and decisively, any plan to set up more nurse-led clinics might as well exist on paper.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 25
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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