Hongkongers are lucky to have one of the more equitable public health systems in the world. We enjoy relatively low-cost, high-quality care. Our hospitals employ some of the most advanced technology and our medical professionals are well-trained.
But health systems experts have long warned that Hong Kong’s reliance on hospital-based services is out of date and cannot meet the needs and growing expectations of a modern and aging society.
There are long queues at accident and emergency departments and many residents, especially the elderly, choose to use out-patient services at public hospitals rather than see private doctors.
In this issue’s Periscope, Varsity looks at some aspects of the problems facing the health system, including provision of health care services for the elderly and the shortage of doctors and nurses.
To encourage Hong Kong’s ever expanding number of old people to use private medical services, the government recently extended the Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme for three more years to 2014. But so far, the scheme has not achieved the desired goals of relieving the burden on the public sector and increasing choice for elderly patients.
The pressure on the public system is exacerbated by manpower shortages. Reports of medical blunders frequently make the headlines, understaffing and overwork are often mentioned in these cases.
The rapid expansion of the private sector has led to an exodus of doctors and nurses attracted by the better pay and working conditions in private hospitals.
To alleviate the problem, the Hospital Authority (HA) has started to recruit overseas-qualified doctors to practise in public hospitals without first having to sit a licensing exam. But the move has met fierce opposition from local doctors.
As for the nursing shortage, the HA has also offered more training and promotion opportunities to nurses in order to retain them. However, it remains to be seen if these measures are effective.
Apart from leaving the public sector for the private one, nurses are also leaving the profession. Some nurses tell Varsity that their job is not well respected. Perhaps it is time to reflect on how nursing is perceived as a profession.
Apart from health, education is also a core issue that our society pays much attention to. In the Our Community section, Varsity looks at the associate degree and investigates whether the programmes offer students brighter prospects and value for money.