No short-term solutions for staff shortage in public hospitals

January 28, 2019 14:41
HA chairman Dr. John Leong (inset) admits there are no short-term solutions to the lack of space and manpower in public hospitals, after about 200 doctors staged a protest in a meeting to bewail their heavy workloads on Saturday. Photo: RTHK

As doctors and nurses in public hospitals bewail their heavy workload amid the growing number of flu patients this winter, the Hospital Authority struggles to remedy the situation. 

So far they can only offer more allowances and transfer some of the patients in the general and geriatric wards to rehabilitation hospitals. 

Dr. John Leong Chi-yan, the HA chairman, admitted that it is difficult to ease the serious manpower shortage and insufficient space in public hospitals in the short term, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports. 

Leong said the authority has decided to raise the amount of allowance in the special honorarium scheme for public hospitals, which seeks to encourage healthcare professionals to work longer hours to meet the demand for their services. 

Hospital authorities are also considering transferring some of the patients in medical and geriatric wards to rehabilitation hospitals so that more space can be squeezed out for patients. 

Leong made the remarks on Sunday, a day after about 200 members of two unions formed by public hospital doctors launched a protest during a meeting to assail the government’s "indifference" to their plight.  

The mass action came after the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff staged a similar protest on Jan. 20 to call for more manpower – rather than increased allowance – to ease the severe staff shortage in public hospitals. 

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee and Hospital Authority chief executive Leung Pak-yin faced the union leaders on Saturday in a bid to pacify them, but their efforts evidently failed. 

Dr. Pierre Chan Pui-yin, a lawmaker who represents the medical functional constituency, told RTHK’s City Forum on Sunday that moving some of the patients to rehabilitation hospitals would not only cause the current problems to spread but also involve extra administrative work while inviting complaints from the patients and their family members. 

Also criticizing the idea, Michael Felix Lau Hoi-man, an officer of the Hong Kong Allied Health Professionals and Nurse Association, said at the forum that rehabilitation hospitals and public hospitals have different sets of facilities and manpower, and flu patients are unlikely to receive the same treatment provided by public hospitals, which have relatively more manpower. 

Lawmaker Chan Hoi-yan, a political assistant to former health secretary Dr. Ko Wing-man, suggested the government provide “flu coupons” for flu-stricken children during the peak season so that they can seek treatment at private hospitals or clinics, which in turn can ease the workload of public hospitals. 

As of midnight Sunday, Tseung Kwan O Hospital had an occupancy rate of 108 percent for its pediatric inpatient beds, while Kwong Wah Hospital had 103 percent, Prince of Wales Hospital had 103 percent, and Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital had 99 percent, the HA said. 

The authority has increased the subsidy under the special honorarium scheme for allied health professionals in public hospitals by 10 percent, effective Monday, and those who are qualified to apply can receive the extra pay in the next 12 weeks. 

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