Following is the speech by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, at the Opening Ceremony of the 10th Anniversary Congress of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine this (November 28) morning:
President, distinguished guests, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to come among you today, to share the joy of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and a big thank you for the services you have rendered to the community.
What are the changes and challenges in healthcare ahead of us? Undoubtedly, the evolution of the global village and advances in technology provide mankind with much convenience in daily life. However, such convenience also creates an easier environment for new viruses and diseases to spread across the globe within a very short time. The high mobility of the world population creates greater difficulties in controlling these viruses and diseases. Our battle with the SARS outbreak this spring demonstrated this at great cost and suffering.
Advances in medical technology also lengthen life expectancy. The aging of the population is another issue which puts immense pressure on both the Government and healthcare system. The elderly are comparatively more vulnerable than other groups in the community. They have a greater cumulative risk of having chronic illness and disability, hence requiring more intensive medical and rehabilitative services. With limited resources, how can we leverage on those available to us to satisfy the infinite demands and maximise the potential benefits to the majority of our community?
These are just some examples that prompted us to review critically the different aspects related to the healthcare system. By initiating changes to some of the measures such as the way of financing, the management and delivery of healthcare services, we can strengthen the robust foundation of the healthcare system.
The healthcare policy of the Government is to provide quality healthcare services to the public while assuring the sustainability and affordability of our services. Particularly, in the context of the severe budget deficit we are facing today, our ability to fund public health services will be limited. With finite public resources, we need to better target our services and channel our resources to where they are most needed. We aim to redirect public subsidies to services which carry a high financial risk to the community so that our future generations can receive the same quality protection that we have been enjoying today.
Our healthcare system is a dual system comprising of both the public and private sectors. The financial sustainability of the whole healthcare system is contingent upon developing the complementary roles of the private and public system. The public sector provides healthcare services to the public, in particular the needy, while the private sector is able to offer more choice options on healthcare services to the community. With this in mind, it is our priority to enhance the partnership between the two sectors. One initiative for collaboration is on population-wide, cervical cancer screening. We will collaborate with the private sector and with community groups to provide health education, disseminate information about cervical screening and launch mass media campaigns. Patients will be encouraged to use the private sector for screening and subsequent investigations and medical care. The Department of Health will provide logistical support and set workable standards on cervical screening for accrediting private laboratories. The Hospital Authority will also refer cervical cancer patients to private doctors for treatment when appropriate. Another example of the shared care programme is that the Hospital Authority is test running the referral of ante-natal patients to private doctors in New Territories East. This referral programme will be rolled out to other clusters if the feedback is positive.
We have also recruited about 90 private doctors with a family medicine background as Visiting Medical Officers to attend to the elderly and hence assist in surveillance for infectious diseases in Residential Care Homes for the Elderly after the SARS outbreak. It is one of the Government's commitments to enhance primary medical care through developing a pluralistic primary care model promoting family medicine practice in the private sector. To achieve this goal, the Hospital Authority has progressively increased the number of family medicine trainees from 68 in 1999/2000 to 98 in 2003/04. We aim to provide training in family medicine for about 50% of specialist trainee intakes in the Authority to cater for the needs in the private sector.
I want to assure you that the Government is committed to developing a partnership and enhancing active collaboration between the public and private sectors. Some of you in the private sector have suggested to me that the pace of change is not fast enough and change not broad enough. I know the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food has already established committees with membership from the private sector to work out further collaboration initiatives and I would encourage the private sector to actively propose ideas and options. And you will find us very responsive.
When all the hardware and framework are well in place, it is the human factor which makes the pivotal move in meeting all these challenges. To achieve this goal, nurturing new blood in the profession and keeping existing experts abreast of advances in medicine are no doubt the only and best means to help Hong Kong to strive for continued excellence in healthcare services. In 1993, the Government acted as a catalyst to facilitate the establishment of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine under statue. We hope by establishing the Academy, we can set standards for training specialists within the medical and dental professions. Ten has years gone by, the Academy not just attained all these goals, but attained them with splendid results. Today, the Academy has almost 4,000 Fellows who are committed to the highest professional standards to answer the ever-increasing demand for medical and dental care in the Hong Kong community.
With the hardware and software well in place, we have set the ground for the highly-qualified and well-trained medical profession to export our healthcare services to our neighbours in the region, especially the Mainland, and develop Hong Kong into a healthcare services hub for Asia. By introducing advanced medical facilities served by an excellent telecommunications and transport infrastructure, we can also extend our capability for advanced medical care and research. With Mainland's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, and the recent signing of CEPA, the market is open with huge opportunities for Hong Kong's healthcare profession. Some Mainland provinces, including Guangdong, have already accepted applications from Hong Kong healthcare service providers. The launch of "Individual Visits" since 28 July further expands the reach for local medical profession to cater for mainland visitors from Beijing, Shanghai and the Guangdong provinces for non-acute or selective medical services.
To me, professionalism does not narrowly refer to the excellence in skills and standards in a particular spectrum. Ethical practices, commitment and devotion to the profession are values which reflect true spirit and pride. All of you who are present today, and many others who are still working hard in their positions, together with those we sadly lost in the battle with SARS, have demonstrated true medical professionalism. Presented with unknowns and uncertainties every day, the healthcare profession, from practitioners, nurses, care assistants, to clinical laboratory workers and university academics, all worked together around the clock selflessly and tirelessly for more than three months. The only hope that supported you to keep on fighting against the unknown enemy was to protect others and save patients. All of you exposed yourselves to unidentified danger, some even sacrificed their own lives, to struggle courageously - and with no regrets. The glorious perseverance of the medical profession has won the highest respect and applause from the public. The recognition did not come solely from Hong Kong. When the World Health Organization removed Hong Kong from its list of areas with local transmission of SARS on June 23, it highly praised our medical profession by saying that "Hong Kong also benefited from the contribution of its outstanding scientists, epidemiologists, and clinicians, who were at the forefront of efforts to track down source cases in the various clusters, identify the causative agent, develop diagnostic tests, and work out treatment protocols". However, this should not hinder you from going further. On the contrary, we should always bear in mind the great price that we paid for the lesson, and remind ourselves frequently of the importance of vigilance and preparedness in "peacetime".
The SARS crisis gives us a clear message that challenges will come to us at any time without any precedent, regardless of whether we are well prepared. We have strengthened our organisation and systems for disease control, invested in improving our facilities and in training for infection control and developed contingency plans for disease outbreaks. At the end of the day, it is only by staying vigilant and equipping ourselves with advances in medicine that we can map out robust strategies to meet all unprecedented challenges and adversities.
Ladies and gentlemen, the reason why I attach so much importance and respect to this Congress is that you are the guardians of the health of the Hong Kong community. I am sure the three-day programme organised by the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine will provide you with insight and solutions so that we may, as a whole, address potential threats and explore new opportunities in our healthcare system.
With these remarks, I announce the 10th Anniversary Congress officially open.
Ends/Friday, November 28, 2003