Lawmakers call for more hospital beds

Many lawmakers yesterday called on the government increase public hospital beds to cater to the growing needs of an increasingly older population.

The calls came at yesterday’s Legislative Assembly (AL) session dedicated to the first part of a Q&A between lawmakers and the government officials.

The debate started over an inquiry by lawmaker Ella Lei on the need to improve rehabilitation services and staffing, seizing the golden period of treatment to support patients’ recovery.

In several interventions, lawmakers insistently called on the government to add more hospital beds to attend to those of older age who suffer from strokes and their side effects as well as fractures related to falls, among others.

Lawmakers claimed that it was “unsuitable,” in most cases, for senior citizens to return to their homes while receiving treatment from the hospital, noting the difficulties for their families in taking care of them.

In response, and also advancing that soon a higher number of beds will be available in the new hospital facilities that the government is finalizing, the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Elsie Ao Ieong, said that, in some cases, “there are people that stay in hospital[] for treatment over fractures for as much as two years.”

She said the government aims to transfer some of these cases, when that is possible, to nursing homes.

On the topic, Ao Ieong also said that the government has recently raised the financial support to caretakers by 3% but lawmakers insist that rather than subsidies what residents need is for the government to offer them quality public health services, as most of them cannot afford the price of the private services.

The Secretary added that she was “happy that people prefer the public” but added, “but if they want a complete service that might not be possible as this [type of service] is only available to those that can afford it.”

Still, Ao Ieong said that the government intends to establish a third level of medical care in Macau in between the hospitals and the healthcare centers. The Secretary said that as soon as the Day Hospitals start operating, the search for treatments, and particularly rehabilitation, should improve.

Response to cases of stroke according to standards

One of the matters that also raised wide discussion during yesterday’s meeting was regarding the time taken to respond to cases of stroke.

As mentioned in the inquiry of Ella Lei, there is a so-called “golden period” for the detection and usage of an intravenous treatment to prevent serious damage or death in patients who suffer strokes.

According to Ao Ieong, Macau is meeting the international standards that she said was 60 minutes, while noting that the local response time is around 54 minutes.

Several lawmakers, including Ron Lam, rejected the statement, noting that the time statistics made by the public hospital take only into account the time of arrival of the ambulance to the emergency and not the time that mediates in between that and the application of the treatment. He also called on the government to push the time way back to a safer level to avoid unnecessary harm to residents.

On the same topic, the director of the Health Bureau, Alvis Lo, clarified that the “Golden Period” for the treatment of strokes is about three hours, from the first signs until the treatment.

He also said that in Macau there is not a great issue with this time as “transportation [via ambulance] to the hospital is usually fast as Macau is small when compared with other places”, reaffirming that local medical services are well on time.

Lacking therapists but some are unemployed

Another of the debated points was the alleged lack of therapists for several specialties such as physiotherapy and occupational and speech therapy.

According to the Secretary, Macau needs a lot more of these professionals and there are not enough locals who have qualifications for these posts. Lawmaker Chan Iek Lap, who is also the president of the Macau Chinese Medical Association disagreed, however, and stated that there are currently some of these therapists that are unemployed or working in a precarious situation.

Chan noted that there are enormous differences between the salary and benefits of the therapists who work in the private or the public sector.

Those in the private sector only earn a fraction of what those hired by the government are earning.

This discourages more young people from joining the profession, although the government is saying that it is working hard to promote it among them. Chan said the government should rectify this situation as soon as possible.

In response, Ao Ieong said that in some cases, such as Speech Therapy, the government outsources therapists from the private sector, something that, she said, can also happen to other types of therapists.

On the same topic, lawmaker Lo Choi In intervened suggesting, yet again, an unusual solution. For Lo since Macau is becoming an even more aging society, the solution would be to hire “unqualified” therapists as “Therapist Assistants” which would allow more young people to start in the profession without the need to “waste time taking university majors that take a long time,” she said.

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