Residents flocked to the emergency departments of Hong Kong’s public hospitals again on Tuesday, with some patients waiting up to eight hours to see a doctor and in the case of one desperate elderly woman, 16 hours to be admitted to a ward.
The surge in patients, which frontline doctors said started weeks ago when the city began recording an uptick in daily Covid-19 cases, has prompted hospital authorities to renew their appeal that people with mild or “non-urgent” conditions seek treatment at public outpatient clinics or family doctors.
Dr Gladys Kwan, a chief manager at the Hospital Authority, said that more than 5,300 people had visited the city’s emergency departments at public hospitals on Monday, and about a fifth of them had been hospitalised. Bed occupancy stood at 113 per cent on Tuesday.
She said pressure on the public hospitals might mount during the holiday season, adding that the authorities would keep tabs on the situation and deploy more resources when needed.
“Then I asked the staff if she knew if other private practitioners were open for the night,” he said. “She said she had no idea and prompted me to ask people outside.”
He eventually saw a doctor at 8am, when his pain had already eased.
Ho Kuen-po, a 72-year-old retiree, said she was referred by her private doctor to do a chest scan at United Christian Hospital after she suffered a fall recently.
“I’m prepared to leave if the wait takes too long, even if I would lose over a HK$100 [US$13],” she said, referring to the registration fee, after learning she had to wait for up to eight hours when she arrived in the morning.
For Wang, a 70-year-old retiree, it was the second time in a week that he had to take his wife – who was infected – to seek treatment at the Kwun Tong hospital, as she had shown signs of complications after taking a prescribed antiviral drug.
He said they had waited for nearly eight hours during the visit a week ago. After waiting for six hours on Tuesday, he decided to go home to make lunch for his wife.
“If I had loads of money, I wouldn’t have come to a place like this,” he said.
Frontline doctors at emergency wards and private clinics cautioned that the situation could worsen in the coming weeks, given an increase in non-Covid flu-like illness and more medical personnel taking leave during the festive holidays.
One emergency ward doctor told the Post that care homes had been sending residents with only mild Covid-19 symptoms to hospitals, instead of arranging their transfer to holding centres set up by the Social Welfare Department as suggested by the government.