The Hospital Authority (HA) submitted its annual report to the Legislative Council last Friday, revealing a deficit of HK$1.52 billion in the year ending March 31. It is the first time the authority has been in the red since 2009-10.

Controversial pay rise despite financial deficit

The report revealed HA’s expenditure totalled HK$62.3 billion last year, representing a 6.6% increase. Staff payrolls took up a majority of the expenditure at HK$43.1 billion, up 6.9% from last year. The deficit is also coupled with the increase in expenditure on drugs, medical supplies, and equipment.

In addition, the report has recorded a bad debt of HK$4.7 million for non-local pregnant women giving birth in public hospitals. The number has dropped over the past two years, yet still account for 8.5% of overall bad debts.

Despite the deficit, the five highest-paid executives have been given a raise in their salaries, ranging from 3.4% to 7.6% increase. The top earner is the authority’s chief executive, Pak-yin Leung, who got a pay rise to close to HK$6 million, up 4.3% from last year.

Some members of the Legislative Council criticised the decision of giving a significant pay rise to the management, even when HA is running out of resources to improve patient care and retain talents.

However, HA Chairman, Prof John Leong, said that the $1.5 billion deficit is not a huge issue as the authority has sufficient reserves, which now stands at HK$13 billion, to cover the deficit and provide services to patients.

Sophia Chan: Primary health care key to cope with future population growth

Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan admitted it is inevitable that public hospital spending will be on the rise, mainly due to the ageing population and the increasing burden of chronic diseases.

“With an ageing population and chronic diseases, [healthcare] services need to keep growing,” she said.

Responding to whether the deficit is due to insufficient funding or if this would affect HA’s services in the longer run, Chan explained that HA had utilised some reserves last year to carry out its existing services.

“We are hoping to move forward from the current situation. According to the Chief Executive's policy address in October, there is an extra HK$2 billion of annual funding set aside for HA expenditure. Besides, we consider increasing recurrent funding every three years. This allows the HA to effectively cope with the population growth and demographic changes,” said Chan.

Chan pointed out primary health care is the key to avoiding HA running into deficit again in the future, “If we do not boost primary services in the community, that is, focus on the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of care, the situation may become worse.” MIMS

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