The shortage of beds and congestion in the in-patient and accident and emergency departments (A&E) of public hospitals went from bad to worse during the Lunar New Year holiday amid the raging flu outbreak.
In some public hospitals, patients at the A&E units were kept waiting for a minimum of eight hours before getting any treatment.
As Professor Francis Chan Ka-leung, dean of the medical school of the Chinese University, put it on his social media page after he and his students visited one of the public hospitals, the conditions were simply “dreadful”, as temporary beds were all over the place.
The situation has been compounded by the shortage of medical staff. As a result, doctors and nurses in public hospitals are basically being pushed to the breaking point amid the flu epidemic.
Earlier on, the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff (AHKNS) took out a full-page ad in major Chinese newspapers in the city criticizing the government for ignoring the overwhelming workload of nurses in public hospitals.
According to the figures released by the AHKNS, the bed occupancy rate in public hospitals currently stands at a staggering 128 percent, but 85 percent of the patient rooms haven’t been allocated any extra manpower.
To address this concern, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has announced that the government would divert an extra HK$500 million to the Hospital Authority (HA) to hire part-time medical personnel and back-office staffers.
However, as we all know, that extra HK$500 million would, at best, be a quick fix and a drop in the ocean amid the acute staff shortage that has been plaguing our public health care sector for years.
As lawmaker and chairman of the AHKNS Joseph Lee Kok-long has pointed out, the nurse-to-patient ratio in Hong Kong stands at 1:12, compared with the international standard of 1:6.
Over the years, there have been calls for the HA to hire more overseas-trained doctors and nurses in order to ease the staff shortage in our public hospitals, but this has met fierce opposition from the local medical sector.
It is believed that members of the local medical sector are so against the proposal because they fear it might open the floodgates for mainland doctors.
However, as the staff shortage in our public hospitals continues to worsen, perhaps it is time for the HA and the local medical sector to prioritize the interests of patients and keep an open mind about all possible options.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 20
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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