Hospital queues linger despite higher fees

Top News | Sum Lok-kei 19 Jun 2017

Long queues persisted in some public hospitals yesterday despite the Hospital Authority raising accident and emergency fees to HK$180 from HK$100.

Waiting times varied from one to eight hours.

Prince of Wales Hospital's A&E department was at the top end, where the prospect of an eight-hour wait loomed by noon.

Most hospitals, however, had waiting times from one to two hours.

People said despite the fee hike that need would be the key factor. Many would continue to head to A&E departments - especially at night when private clinics are closed.

Others were not convinced the increase was large enough to prevent emergency services being abused at public hospitals.

Notices were posted in A&E departments to confirm the new charges were kicking in yesterday.

While some said they had known beforehand of the increase through news reports, others expressed surprise. Some claimed they had not known fees were going up, while a patient at Queen Elizabeth Hospital said: "I thought the fee would not be raised until July 1."

At 2.30pm there were about 20 people seated and waiting at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital's A&E room.

The wait, people said later, had been surprisingly short in the afternoon.

A man on his way out declared it took only five minutes for his father, who had a urinary problem, to be seen by a doctor.

"Perhaps it's because he's elderly," he said of the short wait, though he also said that before yesterday waiting times could be as long as six hours.

A man named Chan took his child to the hospital's A&E department at 2pm. He said the queue was shorter than previously, but he added that even with the increase the fee is lower than the charges of private practitioners in the district.

A man who had a finger wound treated said he had waited just over two hours and was satisfied.

But at Queen Elizabeth Hospital a female patient with back pain said she had to wait for six hours before receiving attention.

Still, she added, the hike in the fee should reduce misuse in the long run so it was acceptable.

At Prince of Wales Hospital an 82-year-old patient said he arrived at the A&E department at 7 am and was told he might have to wait for eight hours before he leg pain could be treated. As it was he had to wait for several hours.

He also said he will continue to use A&E services at public hospitals as it is cheaper than private services.

Luk Che-chung, chief of the Hospital Authority's Hong Kong West cluster and chief executive of Queen Mary Hospital, said at noon that attendance at its A&E department was comparable to previous Sundays.

"It will take some time to observe if the workload is affected," he added.

Szeto King-ho, chief executive of the Hong Kong Emergency Medicine Centre, said the fee increase will not drive patients to the private sector as charges for A&E services at private hospitals and clinics could easily cost thousands.

And Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man again urged people with non-urgent needs to consider using private services.

Low-income families can also apply for medical waivers through Medical Social Services units in various hospitals, he added.

The new fee structure also took the cost of an "acute bed" to HK$120 a day from HK$100.

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