Community & Education Environment & Health Hong Kong

Clear plans needed for using HK$500m earmarked to combat hospital flu crisis, says nursing sector lawmaker

Hong Kong’s nursing sector lawmaker has asked the Hospital Authority to lay out a clear plan for how it expects to spend the extra HK$500 million in funds it has been promised by the government, in order to prevent problems persisting.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the one-off funding injection on Tuesday morning amid protests from nurses and doctors over a lack of resources and heavy workload during winter flu crisis. It is the second consecutive year that the government has announced an additional, one-off HK$500 million funding injection.

Joseph Lee

Joseph Lee. File Photo: Citizen News.

Joseph Lee, the nursing sector lawmaker and the head of the city’s largest association of nurses, said the Hospital Authority clearly failed to use the additional funding effectively last year, causing the situation to occur again.

Lee cited a survey conducted last year by the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff as saying that 70 per cent of frontline nurses believed that relief measures promised by the government had not been fulfilled. For instance, only 19 per cent of wards hired extra administrative staff.

Lee said nurses have expressed 14 points of concern during a protest a week ago, such as the need for more medical staff, equipment updates and the need for less administrative work.

Public hospital nurses

Public hospital nurses. File Photo: Citizen News.

“We need a clear timetable and plan for using the HK$500 million to ensure our front line staff will receive support from this funding, to support them until peak flu season passes,” Lee said.

“In the long run, we don’t just need one-off funding from the government, but long-term promises from the government to solve the issue of lack of nurses, the increase of patients, among other [issues].”

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, also a doctor, said the new funds would only provide a little help for frontline medical staff.

Kwok Ka-ki

Kwok Ka-ki. File Photo: Civic Party.

He said the Hospital Authority should stop asking them to attend courses on national affairs in the mainland during the peak flu season: “This is extremely stupid.”

He called for a suspension of unnecessary meetings for frontline staff. Kwok also said the government should have plans in the upcoming annual budget to increase bed spaces by 10,000 over the next decade.

Hospital Authority Director (Cluster Services) Tony Ko said at a press conference on the flu situation that HK$520 million was given to its network of hospitals between December 2017 and May 2018.

He said 994 part-time and temporary medical staff were hired, and extra pay for overtime will be improved. “The most difficult part is hiring people,” he said.

Sophia Chan

Sophia Chan. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said there will be new, regular HK$190 million funds made available for the 2019 school year to increase the vaccination rates of students. The government will also subsidise five local studies on the flu.

Chan said the government will improve contact with medical groups to arrange for more doctors to work during the Lunar New Year holidays in order to relieve the pressure: “The government, the Hospital Authority, and medical staff at public hospitals are in the same boat,” Chan said.

Clear plans needed for using HK$500m earmarked to combat hospital flu crisis, says nursing sector lawmaker