SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000

Broader role for health body mooted


A bigger role for the Department of Health as a monitoring and regulatory body for all health services could be in the pipeline. The change is likely to be included in a long-awaited consultation document on health-care reform, which is to be released on Tuesday.
The department now oversees government out-patient clinics and is responsible for health promotion and disease prevention and surveillance. It also has limited control over private hospitals.
An extended role could see the department take control of private nursing homes, private hospitals and private doctors' clinics, while it turns over out-patient clinics to the Hospital Authority to serve as a training ground for family-medicine doctors, sources said.
Recommendations in the controversial government-commissioned Harvard Report on how to pay for public medical care have been all but discarded. They may be replaced by a system based on the Singaporean one, where workers have to put aside a small proportion of their wages to pay for health care. Reforms may also include an overhaul of services provided and a so-called "new equilibrium" between the public and private sector.
Legislator Dr Lo Wing-lok, who represents the medical constituency, said the department's role was likely to be redefined. "We have to be very careful and make sure all the measures are cost-effective and that . . . over-regulation will not result," he said.
Last month, a consultant from an Australian accreditation body was in Hong Kong at the invitation of the Director of Health, Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, to study the feasibility of setting up a local accreditation system under which private hospitals would need to follow guidelines on quality. Dr Chan refused to say whether the expert's work was connected with the government consultation document.
Dr Choi Kin, president of the Practising Estate Doctors' Association, hoped the Government would not set unreasonable goals when setting standards for the practice of private doctors and clinics.
The Private Hospitals' Association said the 12 private hospitals had not been consulted about the direction of health care. Dr Walton Li Wai-tat, association president, said: "The important thing is to try to balance the public and private systems and to see some very definite plans to improve the so-called seamless medical care. But if we're not being consulted, how could that interface take place?"