【明報專訊】IT was as early as 2012 when the Audit Commission found that private hospitals whose land had been granted "at nil or nominal premium" had failed to provide low-charge beds for patients in accordance with land grant provisions. The issue dragged on for seven years and remains unresolved. As private hospitals do not inform patients of the availability of low-charge beds on their own initiative, patients have to ask doctors about them so as to use them. This demonstrates the government's failure to enforce the regulations adequately, and this has resulted in a waste of resources and the lack of protection of patient rights. The intentions of the policies are left unfulfilled. This exposes a bigger problem, i.e. a failure to monitor government policies. The government should take remedial action.
The private hospitals which have been named by the Ombudsman are Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital and St. Teresa's Hospital. The Ombudsman says that the issue concerning these hospitals has to be investigated directly. As early as 2012, the Audit Commission criticised these hospitals in its report for violating the land grant provisions. St. Teresa's Hospital, for instance, delayed the provision of low-charge beds in accordance with the provisions by eight years. As of 2012, twenty-seven beds, or over 20 percent of the required number, were still lacking. Between 2007 and 2011, the utilisation rate of its low-charge beds ranged between 17 and 24 percent only. It was also found that patients assigned to low-charge beds were charged exorbitant prices for medicines, paying 50 percent more than patients in second-class hospital wards. As for Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital, it was found that the hospital charged $500 to $550 daily for the use of its low-charge beds, significantly higher than the $100 fee charged by St. Teresa's Hospital.
At a Legco Public Accounts Committee meeting, Ko Wing-man, the then Secretary for Food and Health, said that he would demand higher transparency in hospital bed charges from private hospitals when responding to criticism of private hospitals' failure to provide sufficient information about low-charge or free beds detailed in the Report of the Director of Audit.
The government has never proposed effective measures targeting the low utilisation rates of low-charge beds. Now the Ombudsman has proposed a direct investigation. The Department of Health, which plays a supervisory role, discloses that the land grant provisions only provide that low-charge beds should be offered. But they do not have specific requirements for the use of low-charge beds. The department can only give private hospitals suggestions about ways to enhance the use of low-charge beds in a way that is practical and feasible.
The Hospital Authority (HA) then entered into an agreement with the two private hospitals, which states that the HA will transfer patients that are suitable to be transferred to these private hospitals during peak flu seasons. These patients will be given low-charge beds and only have to pay basic hospital charges equivalent to public hospital charges, and the difference will be subsidised by the HA. The design of the policy is itself excellent. Not only would it allow the two private hospitals to make full use of their beds and increase the utilisation rates of their low-charge beds, but it would also ease the strain on public hospitals and make room for the treatment of more seriously ill patients when their beds are in short supply and their patients are unable to receive medical services. However, the two private hospitals received merely 35 and 25 referred patients during the peak flu seasons in the summer of 2017 and the winter of 2017/18 respectively, even though the agreement stipulates that they should provide 164 beds.
All this has to be investigated by the Ombudsman. However, the government is culpable in the matter as it failed to act when public hospitals were bursting at the seams, patients were unable to receive proper treatment and Hong Kong was ravaged by the flu.
provide that : to state that sth will or must happen
culpable : responsible and deserving blame for having done sth wrong
ravage : to damage sth badly