Hospitals bursting at the seams

Top News | Jane Cheung 4 Dec 2019

Hospital wards were running beyond capacity as Hong Kong recorded this autumn's coldest day at 13.8 degrees Celsius yesterday morning.

With the winter influenza peak season still weeks away, Hospital Authority figures showed internal medicine wards at 16 public hospitals having an average occupancy of 106 percent on Monday.

Among them, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Jordan reached 124 percent and Caritas Medical Centre in Cheung Sha Wan 120 percent. Of the 16 hospitals with accident and emergency departments and internal medicine wards, 10 were bursting at the seams.

Five other hospitals had more than 90 percent of beds occupied except for Tin Shui Wai Hospital with 70 percent.

Queuing time at Prince of Wales Hospital's emergency room in Sha Tin exceeded seven hours yesterday morning.

Waiting times at all hospitals' A&E departments around 5pm was no less that two hours, but at Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai and Tseung Kwan O Hospital it was more than four hours.

And it was three hours plus at Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, Queen Elizabeth, United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong, Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Tai Po, Prince of Wales and Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan.

The shortest waiting time was one hour at St John Hospital in Cheung Chau and the same at Tin Shui Wai Hospital.

The high demands for medical attention came amid the SAR experiencing cool and dry weather over several days.

Former Medical Association president Gabriel Choi Kin said there had been a surge of people with upper respiratory tract infections at his clinic.

The cool weather could set off allergies in the trachea, causing coughing and sore throats, he said.

Angus Chan Ming-wai, a former president of the Hong Kong College of Family Physicians, said bacteria and viruses are generally more active during cold weather and people with weaker immunity would fall sick more easily.

Chan also called for people to get flu jabs as soon as possible before the arrival of the influenza season, though his clinic has seen a 10 percent increase in people receiving vaccinations this year after strengthened propaganda by the government.

The Hospital Authority's chief infection control officer, Raymond Lai Wai-man, had warned earlier that the number of people heading to hospitals would rise in tandem with the fall in temperatures.

He said the winter flu surge is expected by the end of this month or early next month, and the H3N2 virus will be the dominant flu type this year. That was the dominant strain during the summer of 2017. But Lai cautioned that the winter flu surge could arrive earlier if temperature stayed low. In planning for more flu cases, public hospitals are providing more than 900 extra beds and 25,500 additional places at outpatient clinics.

Also in the works is a faster way to differentiate between flu and other infections that cause upper respiratory tract infections in children.

As for the weather, the lowest temperature of the autumn, 13.8 degrees C, was at the Hong Kong Observatory in Tsim Sha Tsui. But the mercury was down to 11 degrees in Tsuen Wan, Tai Po and Lau Fau Shan.

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