Meeting service demand during influenza winter surge


Following is a question by the Professor Hon Joseph Lee and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 29):


     It has been reported that during the two weeks from the end of last month to early this month, the medical inpatient bed occupancy rates of a number of public hospitals exceeded 100 per cent. Given that the winter surge of influenza will soon arrive, some healthcare personnel have anticipated that the overcrowding situation in public hospitals will worsen. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council, whether it knows, in each week of the past two months:

(1) in respect of each acute hospital, the attendance of emergency services, the average waiting time for patients at the accident and emergency (A&E) department, the number of A&E patients diagnosed to be in need of hospitalisation for continued treatment, and the average waiting time for them to be admitted to the wards; and

(2) the bed occupancy rates and the numbers of nurses in the specialties of various public hospitals, with a tabulated breakdown by department; given that the Hospital Authority will recruit more nurses in this financial year to cope with the service demand during the winter surge of influenza, the latest progress of the recruitment exercise?



     My reply to various parts of the question raised by the Professor Hon Joseph Lee is as follows:

(1) In the period between September 4 and October 29, 2017, the average daily attendance at various accident and emergency (A&E) departments of the Hospital Authority (HA) and the average waiting time for A&E patients of different triage categories analysed on a weekly basis are set out respectively at Annexes 1 and 2. The in-patient admissions via A&E departments at hospitals providing A&E services and the average waiting time for admission analysed on a weekly basis for the same period are set out at Annexes 3 and 4 respectively.

(2) Generally speaking, the HA arranges clinical services for patients on a cluster basis. The patient journey may involve different healthcare units within the same cluster. Hence, service indicators such as in-patient bed occupancy rate at cluster level instead of at hospital level can better reflect the actual service utilisation.

     The weekly in-patient bed occupancy rates of the major specialties under each cluster from September 4 to October 29, 2017 are set out at Annex 5. The numbers of full-time equivalent nurses in major specialties under each cluster as at September 30 and October 31, 2017 are set out at Annex 6.

     Over the years, the public healthcare system has been facing the problem of nursing manpower shortage. With the increasing service demand from an ageing population, frontline nursing staff are under tremendous work pressure. The HA has kept on recruiting full-time and part-time nursing staff and taking pro-active action to employ suitable candidates. The number of HA nurses increased from 23 791 in 2014-15 to 24 980 in 2016-17, with an average net increase of 594.5 per year.

     With a recent increase in the supply of nursing manpower, the shortage of frontline staff has been relieved slightly. However, the supply of nursing manpower is still tight on the whole. In the past few years, the HA has introduced a series of measures to retain talent, including employing retired nursing staff, increasing training and promotion opportunities, employing additional ward clerks and assistants to share out the clerical work and assist nurses in taking care of patients, and improving the work environment, etc.

     In addition, to address manpower shortage, the HA has also launched the Special Honorarium Scheme to allow greater flexibility in increasing manpower for coping with service demand surges. In order to encourage more colleagues to join the scheme, the HA will convert some of the extra working sessions from the standard four-hour into two-hour or more during the winter surge this year, thereby making the scheme more flexible.

     The HA plans to recruit 2 130 nurses in 2017-18 to meet service demand, including that arises during the influenza winter surge.  So far, good progress has been made in the recruitment exercise. A total of 1 607 full-time nurses have been employed as at the end of October, with nearly 75 per cent of the target met. Besides, 1 258 Temporary Undergraduate Nursing Students have also been employed.


Last update: 2017-11-30