Public healthcare under microscope
HK govt forms committee to assess effectiveness of Hospital Authority
The government’s long-promised review of the Hospital Authority ( HA) was announced on Wednesday with the formation of a steering committee to evaluate the statutory body that runs all public hospitals and some of the clinics in the city.
The committee will scrutinize issues including the “cluster” system, HA’s management culture and financial resources, engagement of stakeholders, and choices of drugs, according to its chairman and members who talked to China Daily.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying cited a review of the HA as one of his key pledges during the election platform and his first policy address. Wednesday’s message finally outlined that commitment.
The 13 non-official members of the committee include Lam Woon-kwong, Executive Council convenor, and Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as well as doctors, patients’ rights advocates and experts in the business field.
Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing- man will chair the committee. Four other officials and two HA executives, including Chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, are also part of the group. Wu said he supports the review and has “total confidence” that the committee will bring valuable insights for the HA.
Ko said the priorities, timetable and approach of the review were still to be determined by the committee when it calls its first meeting as early as September. No deadline was fixed for the review.
The review will cover the authority’s management, resource allocation, overall cost effectiveness and the setup of the “cluster” system.
Public hospitals, specialist clinics, general out-patient clinics and other related services in the city are grouped under seven “clusters”, but the HA has often drawn criticism over the uneven spread of resources and sectarian tension between clusters.
The system has worked well in their quick response to particular local needs, Ko said, but he agreed there is a need to evaluate the “setup” of clusters and their powers of appointment.
Commit tee member Andrew Yip Wai-chun was a deputy executive director of the HA before he quit last year. He credited the cluster system for “healthy competition”, but says it also sets barriers for doctors from getting cross-cluster promotions. Some territorywide policies have also failed to be consistently executed in all clusters.
Apart from striking a new balance in the relationship between clusters and HA headquarters, Yip says he will also highlight the shift in management culture over the past decade at the HA that has led to a loss of coherence within the body and slipping morale at the frontline.
“Over a decade ago, (executives of the HA) would go to the frontline to check out how the services were going. Now they just give you the funding and leave everything else to yourself,” said Yip, who found there are multiple options for HA executives to exhibit the personal touch in their interaction with staff.
Tim Pang Hung- cheong, who represents the Patients’ Rights Association in the committee, will push the government to consider its long-term financial commitment in the process to ensure essential financing will also be available to the HA.
Pang will also propose direct engagement of more stakeholders throughout the review. The committee will decide how it would be done, but the health secretary said he had considered holding focus group discussions for patients and trade representatives.
Service quality is also a key review aspect. Yip said one important question would be whether or not the HA’s choice of drugs and equipment is outof-date, while Pang said standards must be fixed before an assessment of service levels is possible.