Cold-weather illnesses cause hospital bed shortage in Hong Kong

People braving the cold in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui district on Jan 24.
People braving the cold in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui district on Jan 24.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG • The persistent cold weather in Hong Kong has resulted in a surge of patients seeking treatment at hospitals, with some having to wait for more than 20 hours before they are seen by doctors.

The overcrowding, caused by patients with cold-weather illnesses like flu, has seen some public hospitals recording a bed occupancy rate of 130 per cent, said the South China Morning Post yesterday.

All medical wards in 16 public hospitals in the city constantly had a high occupancy of about 110 per cent, with temporary beds filling up corridors and other public areas.

Accident and emergency units have been seeing over 7,000 patients daily in the past week, above the 6,000 average, said the paper.

Retired housewife So Cheng, 64, said she and her 80-year-old husband, who suffered severe stomach ache, were "very traumatised" after having to wait over 20 hours for a bed at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the report.

"It has been a hard time for both of us," she said. "My husband now sleeps on a temporary bed in the corridor, and before that, all we could do was just sit and wait."

Patients classified as "non-urgent" had to wait as long as 24 hours before being seen by doctors.

To cope with the demand, nurses have been asked to step in to assess patients with more stable conditions and some doctors have been clocking 80-hour weeks, almost double their usual working hours.

With temperatures expected to drop today, medical experts said the overcrowding will worsen.

Public Doctors' Association president Pierre Chan Pui-yin said the number of nurses per patient has fallen, with one nurse to 23 patients during acute periods at night, far lower than the global standard of one nurse to four to six patients.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline 'HK cold-weather illnesses cause hospital bed shortage'. Print Edition | Subscribe