Our public health care system is a nightmare. Having to wait for three hours to be seen by a doctor is preposterous, and doctors having to work 30-hour shifts is just as shocking, if not inhumane. Nurses bear the brunt of angry waiting patients and caring for wards that are filled beyond capacity. This is Hong Kong’s most urgent crisis.
Some say that we are “over-reliant” on our heavily funded government hospitals. Heavily subsidised, it is some of the best care in the world, and can be more reliable than private care – if you got at times when hospitals are not as busy. Sadly, the public health system is staggering under the weight of lessening power, overcrowding and a lack of resources. A recent SCMP article stated that 40 per cent of all doctors work in the public sector, where they take care of 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s population. The remaining doctors only take care of 10 per cent of the population, presumably those wealthy enough to seek private care.
In spite of the migration of doctors from the public to private sector, signs at government hospitals such as Queen Mary Hospital tell patients to seek private care when the waiting times are too long.
“Over-reliance” should not be a problem that exists. As permanent HKID holders, everyone is entitled to public health care by law, but the government lacks determination to back the basic right to health care for all of Hong Kong’s citizens. While the sector is well-funded, various loopholes are draining public health care, and such holes need to be filled.
Hong Kong’s health chief, Dr. Ko Wing-man unveiled a 10 year-plan to help public hospitals retain manpower back in January. His proposed measures include expansion and redevelopment of more than 10 hospitals, as well as building more operating theatres and providing 5,000 new beds.
But that just isn’t enough. Doctors are likely moving from public to private due to the better working hours and conditions. Such policies need to be agreed upon as soon as possible. Average occupancy was around 130 per cent during the recent flu season, indicating that the situation is beyond dire. Beds need to be provided and smaller public health care clinics can be set up to deal with flu patients, rather than exhausting A&E services.
There is no reason why anyone should have to refrain from using any kind of publicly funded health care. It is time the government thought along those lines.