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Speech by SHWF at Hospital Authority Convention 2006 (English only)

    Following is a speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr York Chow, at the opening ceremony of the Hospital Authority Convention 2006 today (May 8):

Mr Wu, Vice-Minister Li, Mr Solomon, Ladies & Gentlemen,

     I recall, at the Hospital Convention last year, the theme then being "New Frontiers for Population Health", I outlined eight essential elements for a sustainable healthcare system.  Based on those principles, the Health & Medical Development Advisory Committee produced a consultation document "Building a Healthy Tomorrow" in July, 2005.  With extensive community consultation, over 600 written comments have been received from various sectors and representations, giving valuable feedback.  We are now analysing and studying various healthcare financing options, so that an appropriate option (or options) can be presented for further deliberation by the community in the coming months.  A number of proposals given by the first report, however, have received general support from the public.  These will be considered for progressive development prior to any healthcare financing decisions.

     Allow me to introduce four of these proposals:

     Most people embrace the concept of a family doctor system for Hong Kong, and such policies will be explored.  With general support of the private sector, pilot practices will be set up to expand the service capacity and capability of primary care practitioners, including family doctors with various specialty backgrounds and specialists in family medicine.  Together with community nurses and allied health professionals, home visits and outreaching service models can be further developed.  A referral system between primary and specialist care could be introduced to encourage appropriate and timely care and to reduce unnecessary queuing for specialists clinics in the Hospital Authority.  More Chinese Medicine Clinics with elements of research and training will be established in all districts.

     Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world where the poor, underprivileged and chronically ill can enjoy healthcare services without bias, and this principle must be upheld.  With an increasing elderly population, and escalating costs of healthcare due to new drugs and technology, strategies must be developed to contain the cost of care, while at the same time, maintaining the quality, professional standards and access to healthcare services for all.  Appropriate fee adjustment by the Hospital Authority is required to encourage a healthy lifestyle and rational usage of healthcare services, and to discourage inappropriate, unnecessary, or duplicated services.  It should be kept in mind that fees should be maintained at affordable levels after adjustment, and be capped for patients who have chronic illnesses which require long term care.

     Although the Hospital Authority has made information available on private doctors and hospitals at public hospitals and clinics, and with pilot share care programmes introduced in some clusters over the past few years, more flexible policies are necessary to enhance public and private service integration.  The aim is to allow healthcare services to be more evenly distributed and accessible to the public, and to provide an environment for healthy partnership, and service competition based on quality and value-for-money.  The Hospital Authority has already adopted a policy of retaining specialists with particular expertise to work on a sessional basis after they join the private sector.  Further exchange of expertise should be explored so that patients can have a better choice in either public or private facilities.

     The current private services in the Hospital Authority should be developed as benchmark services and complimentary to other private services.  I need to emphasise that there is no, nor will there be any public subsidies for such services, and there is also no intention by the Government to expand these services beyond the present gazetted capacity.  However, I would urge private doctors and hospitals not to hastily raise their fees, taking lessons from our tourism services in the last week.  The Hong Kong public would certainly appreciate it if private fees and service standards were more transparent and predictable, and we need to provide such services according to market demands.  Experience has shown that doctors and healthcare professionals who are conscientious, caring and ethical can always survive and thrive.  The Government will consider, in the longer term, a monitoring and licensing system for healthcare service settings, premises and organisations, so that both private and public services can be subject to the same level of public scrutiny.  It would also imply that private services might then be eligible for public subsidies and contracts.

     It has been generally agreed by all stakeholders that both private and public services are willing to contribute towards a common electronic health record system, with ownership by the individual, who could authorise access to his /her own record by his/her healthcare professional.  The system would greatly enhance medical record storage, healthcare quality, and continuity of care across multi-disciplinary healthcare providers, and would also assist continuous monitoring of epidemiological changes in disease patterns and healthcare outcomes.  It would also allow for better planning for future healthcare resources and facilities.

     Ladies and Gentlemen, we have witnessed many changes in the Hospital Authority over the past year, and I would like to thank Mr Wu, and all the HA Board Members for their leadership and dedication, and applaud the hard work of our senior executives.  I would also like to most sincerely thank all the frontline staff of the Hospital Authority, who have maintained their professionalism and commitment to service excellence during such changing times.  I would like to express my appreciation to the frontline doctors and the HA management, who showed their goodwill in settling the long-dreaded controversy of working hours and compensatory leave.  I look forward to a more harmonious atmosphere within the HA over the coming months.

     The Hospital Authority is the largest public corporation funded by the Government, and it enjoys autonomy and flexibility.  Much of its innovative potential has yet to be developed.  I envisage that, with a more empowered approach, and with the development of a team of executives with a commitment to service and professional excellence, integrity and fairness, and a respect for patient-centred principles and community accountability, the Hospital Authority will be able to turn a new leaf for all stakeholders, and for the benefit of our patients, and community partners.  I am confident of this positive transformation under the leadership of Mr Wu, the HA Board and Mr Solomon, and looking forward to continued community support given to the Hospital Authority.  The pragmatic theme of this Convention "From Policy to Practice" is most appropriate for this time of change.  I wish you all a fruitful exchange and an enjoyable time.  For visitors from abroad, I would like to thank you for your contribution, and wish you a pleasant stay in Hong Kong.

Ends/Monday, May 8, 2006
Issued at HKT 12:10