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Secretary for Health calls for more active co-operation from different sectors on transfer arrangement of Hospital Authority patients
     Given the gradual deterioration of recent epidemic situation, the public healthcare system has been facing mounting pressure. The Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau, again appealed for active co-operation from different sectors on the transfer arrangement of patients from the Hospital Authority (HA) to private hospitals, with a view to making the best efforts in using private hospital beds and allowing the HA to focus its resources in combating the epidemic more effectively.

     The number of daily new cases in Hong Kong has exceeded 7 000, alongside with a marked increase in the proportion of cases related to the Omicron mutant strain sub-lineages BA.4 and BA.5. As the relevant mutant strains are of higher transmissibility, the number of cases is expected to stay high in the short term with a rise in hospitalised patients. The HA has recently reopened its Treatment Centre for COVID-19 at AsiaWorld-Expo to provide more beds to meet the demand, and needs to further adjust the scale of non-emergency services which may be affected by nearly half, thereby focusing the limited resources to counter the epidemic development in a more effective manner.

     Following an earlier meeting between Professor Lo and representatives from the Hong Kong Private Hospitals Association, all 13 private hospitals have shown support to the appeal by providing a total of 364 hospital beds at the initial stage. The number of hospital beds can be gradually brought up to around 1 000 depending on the actual demand. Public hospitals have started to transfer patients to private hospitals progressively to continue their treatment since late July. However, the overall utilisation of private hospital beds fell below expectation recently (see Annex). Professor Lo is highly concerned about the situation, and calls for more active co-operation on HA's transfer arrangement.

     Professor Lo said, "I understand that the utilisation of private hospital beds may be affected by various factors, including the fact that some patients in public hospitals and their family members might have refused the transfer due to worries towards the charging arrangement etc. Furthermore, although private hospitals have expedited their responses to transfer requests made by the HA, some might not be able to fully co-operate on the transfer arrangement administratively (say, being unable to receive patients during weekends and holidays). This would also substantially affect the overall utilisation of hospital beds."

     "In view of the latest epidemic development, I urge private hospitals to make their best efforts in receiving a greater variety of patients, expediting the workflow in receiving patients, and enhancing the arrangement in accepting cases during weekends and holidays. Again, I also call for the co-operation of patients in public hospitals and their family members, such that the HA may spare its capacity to focus its efforts in combating the epidemic."

     "There are now around 20 000 acute and convalescent beds in the HA, which need to be successively deployed to cater for the demand from patients given the epidemic development. As there are more than 5 100 beds in all private hospitals in Hong Kong, the efficient use of private hospital beds in receiving HA patients has become essential to the continued operation of public healthcare services. It is a matter of life and safety to our citizens which should allow no further delay."

     Professor Lo would like to express his gratitude in particular to CUHK Medical Centre, now the only private hospital to provide treatment to COVID-19 patients transferred by the HA, for making use of its isolation ward and planning to deploy more hospital beds, as well as St. Teresa's Hospital and Evangel Hospital for responding to the appeal by actively receiving patients. As for individual private hospitals with lower patient admission and less satisfactory utilisation of hospital beds, the HA has been actively following up with the relevant hospitals.

     The HA reiterates that public hospitals will definitely conduct a professional evaluation to ensure that a patient is suitable for transfer to private hospitals before making the arrangement. Patients only need to pay at a level equivalent to the charges of HA services for their stay at the private hospitals, and those who are eligible for medical fee waiver will still be able to enjoy such waiver as in the case of using HA services.

     The HA will continue to maintain liaison with private hospitals to further streamline the transfer arrangement and make best endeavours in preparing our public healthcare system for the combat against the epidemic, thereby protecting public health.
Ends/Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Issued at HKT 22:26
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