Monday, 23 May 2011

An Exhausted Health System

In Hong Kong it's best not to get sick.

That's because doctors in public hospitals are overworked and aren't well rested enough to make proper decisions about your health.

All public hospitals are managed by the Hospital Authority, which in turn is led by Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow. Despite doctors in public hospitals pleading for more resources, particularly man power, their requests have gone unheard.

Many of these doctors work more than 65 hours a week. On the Pearl Report on TVB, there was one female doctor who was profiled and was eight months pregnant but still pulling in her long shift. She even added some of her colleagues only went on maternity leave the day before they gave birth. How is a pregnant doctor supposed to physically keep up with all the things she has to do?

Because of the shortage of manpower, doctors must see about 15 patients in an hour. How are they supposed to give adequate care and listen to the patients' concerns if they only have a few minutes for each person?

After years of putting up with this, some doctors leave the public sector and set up their own practices. One doctor did that after working eight years in the public health system. However, he explained the perception of going into the private sector led to higher salaries was untrue. He claimed he made half of what he used to make in the hospital and that it was less stable and didn't have benefits.

Nevertheless, he admitted he was still glad he left the HA because of the stress he went through especially when he was on call for 28 hours straight.

But his leaving the system and many others like him have exacerbated the doctor shortage in public hospitals.

Specialists aren't necessarily free from stress either as there are a shortage of them too; a brain surgeon interviewed said while he was on call 15 days in the month, that meant 15 days of not sleeping well. And as a brain surgeon he had to ensure he had a decent night's sleep otherwise he would not be able to properly perform procedures that could mean life or death for the patient. "I take sleeping pills for my patients, not me," he said. He didn't want to but needed to take the pills in order to ensure he was alert the next day.

The departments with the greatest doctor shortages are obstetrics and prenatal with all the mainland Chinese coming to Hong Kong to give birth.

Currently Hong Kong has 100,000 doctors, half of which are in the public sector and 90 percent of the population go to public hospitals. That means there are 1.8 doctors for every 1,000 people. But in Singapore it's 2.2, 3.1 in the United States and between 3 and 6 for European countries.

Secretary Chow hasn't done much to alleviate the problem immediately, but he has no excuse as the chorus of complaints has been going on for years.

Hong Kong is a well-developed society and yet we don't have enough doctors to properly look after us. When they don't have enough rest, their judgment becomes impaired, thus leading to wrong diagnoses, mistakes in treatment or even death. A survey on April 18 by the Frontline Doctors' Union and the Public Doctors' Association said 40 percent of Hong Kong doctors admit to making mistakes due to long working hours.

Is that the way Hong Kong's health system should be run?

So for your own sake, don't get sick here. Otherwise you may not be in safe hands.

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