Extra funding to help public hospitals in flu battle

January 30, 2019 14:03
Officials from the Hospital Authority, Food and Health Bureau, and the Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection speak at a press conference on Tuesday on the latest situation in relation to the seasonal influenza. Photo: HK Govt

The government will allocate extra funding to the Hospital Authority (HA) to help place the agency in a better position to hire more people and reward overworked staff in the city's public hospitals which have seen a surge in flu patients this winter.

Speaking to media before attending a regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that the government has reserved a one-off allocation worth HK$500 million, similar to a move made last year for the same purpose.

The reserve of HK$500 was clearly a response to the mounting dissatisfaction in the past few weeks from doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in public hospitals and their heavy workload resulting from serious shortage of manpower.

Expressing gratitude to all medical, nursing, allied health and supporting staff in the public hospitals for “shouldering extreme pressure” in taking care of the patients, Lam acknowledged that there is room for improving their work environment, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The government will review the health system, endeavor to promote primary healthcare and continue to increase the number of places for medical students, the chief executive said.

Asked about her opinion on a suggestion made by former HA chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, who called on the government to resume the pre-handover practice of recognizing the qualifications of Commonwealth doctors and allowing them treat patients in Hong Kong to solve the manpower issue, Lam said she does not consider it a feasible idea, since the medical sector has not reached a consensus on the matter.

Wu, who is currently a member of the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China’s top advisory body, told a radio program on Tuesday that Commonwealth doctors are qualified and can meet the standard of Hong Kong and that they should be exempted from registry exams and internships and allowed to provide services here.

At a press conference on Tuesday, along with officials from the Food and Health Bureau and the Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection, the HA said it has distributed HK$520 million to public hospitals so that they can raise the amount of allowance in the special honorarium scheme to engage more staff members to meet the demand for their services as well as hire more part-time workers.

The general out-patient clinic consultation quotas will be increased by nearly 4,000 attendances a day from next week, and the arrangement will last until Feb. 17, according to the HA.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee told media that the administration, HA and public hospital staff are in the same boat working hard for people’s health, and that she hopes private doctors and Chinese medicine practitioners can join the efforts to battle the flu epidemic during the Lunar New Year holidays next week.

Dr. Tony Ko Pat-sing, a specialist in geriatric medicine and currently the director (cluster services) at the HA head office, said the biggest problem faced by public hospitals now is manpower hiring.

The HA has made the best of government funding to reward hard-working frontline staff, the doctor said.

Joseph Lee Kok-long, a lawmaker who represents the health services functional constituency, urged the government and the HA to formulate a clear roadmap and timetable to explain to the frontline staff and the public how the extra HK$500 million funding will be used.

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