The University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen Hospital (HKU-SZH) has been striving to be the model for nation-wide hospital reform. It takes a further step in that direction by aiming to open its medical centre for renal and liver transplantation by the end of this year.

The Centre of Reproductive Medicine recorded 85% growth in patient number from 2015 to 2016

Since its opening on July 1, 2012, HKU-SZH has aimed to establish five areas of excellence and related studies, namely Reproductive Medicine (IVF) and Prenatal Diagnosis, Cardiovascular Disorders, Oncology, Spine and Traumatology and Organ Transplant.

Among the five areas, the Centre of Reproductive Medicine, which provides clinical services to manage patients with reproductive issues, has received a warm welcome from patients in mainland China. The number of patients visiting the centre has rocketed from approximately 10,900 cases in 2015 to over 20,200 in 2016 after the centre was approved to expand their service into intrauterine insemination and in-vitro fertilisation.

"The decision by the Chinese government to abandon its decades-long one-child policy in 2015 has to some extent contributed to the growth. Many of the parents are eager for a second child," Professor Pak-Chung Ho, Director of the Centre explained.

"The limitation of assisted reproduction in Hong Kong is another reason. If residents want to undergo in-vitro fertilisation in Hong Kong, they need to wait for at least two years in public hospitals. Alternatively, they can pay eighty to ninety thousand dollars per week for the service in private hospitals. Compared to us, since we are a public hospital, our package is monetarily more attractive - around twenty to thirty thousand dollars with a wait of approximately two months," he added.

"The decision from the Chinese government to abandon its decades-long one-child policy in 2015 has to some extent contributed to the growth,” Professor Pak-Chung Ho explained. (Photo credit: HK01)

Currently, there are seven full-time doctors from mainland China and three doctors from HKU working part-time in Ho's team. The upsurge in demand implies a need to recruit more staff in the future.

Introducing renal and liver transplant services by the end of 2017

Organ transplant is another HKU-SZH major area of excellence. "We aim to introduce the service by the end of this year. Since we have a huge population in Shenzhen, I believe there's a demand for organ transplant surgeries. HKU is renowned internationally for our excellence in clinical service and research in terms of organ transplant surgeries, we have the experience, and we are ready to introduce the service in mainland China," Hospital Chief Executive (HCE) Professor Chung-Mau Lo said.

However, the hospital is still awaiting the Chinese government's approval for the licensing to perform organ transplant surgeries. Lo explained that 'the underlying law issues are not unsolvable', and is confident that the license will be acquired shortly.

Professor Lo has over 20-year clinical, teaching and research experience in hepatobiliary surgery. (Photo credit: Ta Kung Pao)
Professor Lo has over 20-year clinical, teaching and research experience in hepatobiliary surgery. (Photo credit: Ta Kung Pao)

Additionally, there have been concerns whether assigning doctors to perform surgeries in Shenzhen will affect their service in Hong Kong or result in a longer waiting time. "Hong Kong doctors will mainly be responsible for management and training. Hence, the surgeries will not be solely performed by Hong Kong doctors, but also the experienced doctors from mainland China," Lo emphasised.

Financial disputes between the Shenzhen government and HKU

With $200 to $300 million in subsidies from the Shenzhen government, HKU-SZH recorded $1.3 billion in revenue last year. Deducting $200 million worth of salaries for experts in HKU, the hospital still achieved $20 million in profit.

Nevertheless, despite the profit, HKU-SZH is still facing heavy financial burdens in repaying current debts. The hospital currently owes $600 million to HKU for the prepayment in salaries.

The situation worsened when the Shenzhen government announced that it would be reducing the amount of subsidy to the hospital starting this year. While Lo said the hospital had already repaid $80 million of the debt, he admitted it is highly unlikely for the hospital to repay all of the debt in a short time, given its current financial status.

"Since there are limits on how much we can charge, plus the salaries of the Chinese doctors here are generally 60% to 70% higher than others in the city, it is difficult to achieve a break-even," Lo explained.

"We will reform the pricing mechanism and strengthen our services to increase our revenue in the future," he emphasised. MIMS

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