Every public hospital in Hong Kong remains over capacity this week, with six hospitals exceeding 120% of capacity. The Hospital Authority admits that overall, public hospitals are operating at 118 percent of capacity due to the recent surge in influenza cases.

Aside from North Lantau Hospital, which does not have an acute medical ward, every public hospital was bursting at the seams as of Tuesday morning.

The six hospitals which have a bed occupancy rate of more than 120 percent include Queen Elizabeth Hospital, United Christian Hospital, Caritas Medical Centre, Yan Chai Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital, with the highest rate of 131 percent at Pok Oi Hospital. A notice at Queen Elizabeth Hospital told patients that on average the waiting time would exceed 24 hours.

Public hospital bed occupancy rates. Photo: Gov HK.

On Monday, a doctor at Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s emergency room, who did not want to be named, posted on Facebook saying the situation was “ridiculous”.

“Some family members [of a patient] asked me: how long must we wait [before being transferred]?” the doctor wrote. “The longest one slept for three nights here, is that ridiculous? I feel it’s ridiculous too.”

The doctor also wrote that some patients have to wait in wheelchairs because there are not enough emergency room beds to go around.

A notice at Queen Elizabeth Hospital told patients that on average the waiting time would exceed 24 hours. Photo: Stand News/TVB screenshot.

Dr Pierre Chan Pui-yin, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, wrote in a blog post that the actual overcrowding figures were often higher than the government’s report. The Hospital Authority only stated bed occupancy rate at midnight, but did not reveal daytime figures.

“Discharging and transferring from the medical department would only [happen] during the daytime. No one would be discharged from the medical department wards at midnight,” he wrote, saying more patients would be transferred during the day.

“So after midnight the bed occupancy rate would increase on the following day, [to] 140 percent, 150 percent…”

He said it would take two additional medical department wards in a public hospital to deal with the winter and summer influenza surges, but the increase in recurrent funding for the wards would be “politically impossible.”

Packed medical wards.

Last month, the Financial Secretary proposed reducing recurrent funding for the Hospital Authority by HK$236 million or 0.5 percent during his budget speech. The Hospital Authority subsequently applied for an additional HK$224 million funding for this year.

Dr. Chan said that without government and public funding, medical workers could only increase working hours.

“A doctor can take care of 50 patients in a ward, observe 60 patients during a three hours out-patient session, spend two minutes on a patient…” Chan wrote in sarcasm.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.