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Hong Kong Hospital Crisis Easing

Patients left in hallways due to overcrowding at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Photo: Sam Tsang.

A capacity crisis in Hong Kong's hospitals is beginning to ease thanks to money being made available by the Government for an expansion of healthcare services to meet growing demand. This was the message I received during meetings this week with senior health leaders in Hong Kong.

Earlier this year Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying promised that public hospitals would get an additional 5,000 beds and 90 operating theatres in the next 10 years as part of a HK$200 billion bundle of development projects. Those funds are now finally making it to where the money is needed.

Saint Teresa's Hospital, Ma Tau Wai.

The investment includes new construction and expansion at all Hong Kong public hospitals and in particular large redevelopment projects at Tuen Mun Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital. It will also provide an additional 90 operating theatres increasing capacity by 40% across the territory and a significant increase in the number of medical school places to grow the physician population.

Investment also includes Childrens' Hospital at the former Kai Tak Airport.

The capacity crisis in Hong Kong is not too dissimilar to issues being faced by mature public healthcare systems across the world. An aging population of baby boomers is consuming more healthcare services, and spikes in demand for services during the flu season, which spreads quickly amongst Hong Kong's tightly packed population is combining with population growth fueled by immigration from Mainland China to excerpt pressure on the system.

This year's flu season coincided with the Health Authority’s decision to send 30 frontline doctors to Beijing to attend a one-week national education class left hospitals severely understaffed for the unexpected surge. Accident and Emergency services were running at an average 110% capacity with some hospitals at 130%. Lines formed out the doors of hospitals into the street and patients had to wait hours to be see.

The situation got so bad that an appeal went out to private physicians across Hong Kong to help out at public hospitals, and several private hospitals made available free or low cost beds to help with the overflow at public facilities.

Long wait times for patients. Photo Sam Tsang.

In meetings this week with the Hong Kong Hospital Authority I was told that while some of the larger projects would take many years to complete, capacity has already been improved at many public hospitals, and new measures put in place to reschedule non-urgent procedures outside of peak demand, especially during flu season.

Improvements in healthcare security are also being made but are being funded from other sources outside of capacity improvement measures. Hong Kong continues to lag behind the UK, US and Australia in its cybersecurity maturity and this will likely be another area of targeted improvement over coming years. Compared to the capacity and modernisation initiatives, cybersecurity remains however, a fairly low priority for now I was told.