Hong Kong is paying for patients to be transferred to private hospitals as flu outbreak kills 183, sends hospitals into overdrive

The Straits Times

An unusual and deadly flu outbreak has sent Hong Kong hospitals into a frenzy, with occupancy rates at public hospital wards reaching over 120%.

According to the Hong Kong government, since May, there have been 270 adult cases of influenza-associated Intensive Care Unit admissions, including 183 deaths.

“Due to the recent predominance of influenza A (H3N2), elderly people aged 65 years or above were particularly affected. Most of them also have underlying illnesses,” a press release on July 17 said.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority has reportedly said that it will pay to transfer patients from public to private hospitals to ease the bed crunch caused by the flu outbreak.

Some patients have had to wait up to eight hours at public hospitals and temporary beds have been placed in common corridors, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported this week.

A chief manager at the authority Dr Ian Cheung was quoted by SCMP as saying that the authority would “buy the services” of private hospitals, although the details have yet to be discussed.

“The Centre for Health Protection has predicted that the flu situation will last two to three more months,” he added.

Secretary for Food & Health Professor Sophia Chan said that the other than hiring more part-time healthcare professionals, the authority was also considering bringing in more manpower from other agencies.

“For example, doctors of the Department of Health may use their outside office time to help the authority in their general out-patient clinics,” she said.

Describing the flu outbreak this year as “unusual”, Dr Cheung Wai-lun, the ­authority’s acting chief executive, said some 1,000 patients needed to be admitted to general medical wards of public hospitals every day for the past two weeks.

“Usually, such a situation would last about two or three days and we would be able to cope with it. But this year, it lasted for more than 10 days,” he was quoted by SCMP as saying.