Motion on “Promoting Cross-boundary Medical Cooperation” (2022.11.24)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, President. The newly delivered Policy Address has proposed to establish the Steering Group on Integration into National Development. One of its tasks is to foster a greater flow of people, goods, capital and information within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (“GBA”), so as to promote the interconnectivity and integrated development among GBA cities. As a matter of fact, the integrated development of GBA has become an irreversible trend, and more than 530 000 people are currently living in the Guangdong Province on a long-term basis. With the development in the future, there will certainly be an increasingly number of people going to work, do business, spend their twilight years and study in GBA. They will have various needs in their daily life, including healthcare issues. Today, Mr Kingsley WONG has proposed the motion on “Promoting cross-boundary medical cooperation” in the hope of resolving the healthcare problems that Hong Kong people would encounter in GBA, and I believe this is a very practical issue. The Government must face this problem squarely in order to promote the integration of GBA.

Hong Kong people will inevitably fall ill sometimes when they live and reside in GBA. They cannot live at ease if they have to return to Hong Kong for receiving medical treatment whenever they get sick. I think the integration of GBA should not be lopsided. In fact, providing convenience only in respect of doing business, working, studying and ageing is not enough. Providing convenience for their daily life, especially healthcare issues, is equally important. Integration should be comprehensive, and interconnectivity of medical services is a must for Hong Kong people living in GBA to truly integrate into the local life there, otherwise it will be meaningless.

This time around, the epidemic has highlighted the importance of cross-boundary medical services. Due to the prolonged suspension of normal traveller clearance, many chronic disease patients are unable to return to Hong Kong for attending follow-up consultations. In view of this, the Government launched the Special Support Scheme in November 2020 to subsidize patients to attend follow-up consultations at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital (“HKU-SZH”). I have learnt that tens of thousands of attendances have participated in the Scheme, reflecting the immensely strong demand for it. In addition, the Government has allowed Hong Kong elderly persons to use healthcare vouchers for outpatient services at HKU-SZH since 2015, and this well-received measure has already been regularized. Today’s original motion has proposed to regularize the Special Support Scheme and even expand its scope to cover specialist surgeries, as well as extending the Scheme to other “Grade 3A” hospitals in GBA. Lastly, the original motion has even proposed that the Government should enable Hong Kong people who have been waiting for public healthcare services for a long time to seek medical consultation in GBA.

I consider these proposals rather ambitious, but they deserve serious consideration by the Government. With regard to regularizing the Special Support Scheme, from the perspective of resources, these patients are Hong Kong people and they are entitled to public healthcare services. Most of the costs are borne by the Government no matter they seek medical treatment in Hong Kong or in GBA, and the costs of seeking medical consultation in GBA is definitely lower than in Hong Kong. Therefore, this proposal would be a good choice if medical services of the same quality can be provided and members of the public are willing to “go north”. At the same time, population of Hong Kong is ageing fast. Although the Government continues to increase healthcare manpower and facilities in the meantime, it is still uncertain whether the demand can be met in the future. With this in mind, the Government should not rule out any options that can triage the patients.

Having said that, from the perspective of the system, the integration of cross-boundary medical services will give rise to many problems that must be resolved. It is also necessary to establish an interconnectivity mechanism, including the flow of information between the healthcare systems of the two places, mutual recognition of medical records, as well as gaining the support of “Grade 3A” hospitals in GBA and their participation, all of which require discussion between the governments of the two places. In fact, the Shenzhen Government launched a number of measures last year to promote cross-boundary medical services in GBA by allowing Shenzhen people to seek medical consultation in Hong Kong, and assisting Hong Kong people in seeking medical treatment in the Mainland. Therefore, Hong Kong should also negotiate with the Mainland as expeditiously as possible the establishment of a cross-boundary medical services mechanism and arrangements for “Insurance Connect”, including enabling the interconnectivity of medical insurance between the Mainland and Hong Kong.

What is more, our country has made rapid advancement in the research and development of new drugs in recent years, thereby leading to the production of many drugs for cancer and rare diseases the effectiveness of which is no worse than that of foreign drugs. Most importantly, their prices are far lower than foreign drugs. Quite a lot of Hong Kong patients who cannot afford the expensive self-financed drugs would also like to try Mainland-made drugs. While the Government now intends to allow Mainland-made drugs to be registered and sold in Hong Kong, there are still a lot of barriers and we need to wait patiently. Moreover, Hong Kong’s healthcare sector may not be able to master the characteristics of these Mainland-made drugs, and it may not accept them as well. If a cross-boundary medical services mechanism is established in GBA, those patients in need but cannot afford self-financed drugs can consider “going north” to seek medical consultation and receive treatment using new Mainland-made drugs directly. This may bring new hopes for recovery.

Thank you, President.

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