Hong Kong doctors joined localists on Sunday to call for the abolition of a controversial migrant scheme taking in 150 mainlanders daily – a policy activists blamed for overcrowding at public hospitals.
Some 20 protesters, claiming to represent about 30 concern groups and political parties, staged a rally outside the office of the city’s leader in Admiralty, decrying the so-called one-way permit scheme.
“Out of 10 patients I have to deal with in a day, at least seven are new migrants,” radiation therapist Ng Chi-kit, of Prince of Wales Hospital, said.
“You can tell they are new migrants by the spellings of their names and the prefixes in their ID card numbers.”
The tension was sparked by public hospitals being stretched to breaking point as medical staff battled the winter flu surge since the start of the year.
The overall occupancy rate for public wards across the city has routinely exceeded 100 per cent – meaning temporary beds were added between regular ones and along corridors.
On Saturday, the overall occupancy rate for medical wards was 102 per cent, with Queen Elizabeth Hospital and United Christian Hospital recording a high of 115 per cent.
Out of 10 patients I have to deal with in a day, at least seven are new migrants
Ng Chi-kit, radiation therapist
Queue times for non-urgent patients could stretch to eight hours at accident and emergency units, and prolonged waiting time at such places has become the norm.
Last month, some 100 nurses from public hospitals staged a rally to voice discontent with manpower shortage. More than 100 overworked doctors also held a forum to take the issue of overcrowding to officials.
On January 31, blaming hospital woes on the influx of mainlanders, localist groups launched an online petition and collected more than 12,000 signatures in 10 days in support of their call for a review of the permit scheme, or to reduce the quota.
Created in the 1980s to enable family reunifications, the one-way permit scheme allows up to 150 mainlanders each day to move to Hong Kong. It is administered by mainland authorities and Hong Kong has no say in who is admitted.
To mainland Chinese ‘Hong Kong drifters’, the allure of becoming a permanent resident in the city is fading
There are also no checks on migrants’ financial status and health conditions.
Debate on the influence of new migrants in society heated up recently after Dr Alfred Wong Yam-hong, a public doctor and member of the doctors’ group Medecins Inspires, said he heard from frontline colleagues that many mainlanders sought kidney dialysis in Hong Kong’s public hospitals immediately after arriving on one-way permits.
We are now like in a packed and overloaded lift. We only ask that no more people be let in
Roy Tam, protest group spokesman
At Sunday’s protest, group spokesman Roy Tam Hoi-pong, also of localist party NeoDemocrats, denied they were inciting hatred against mainlanders. “We are now like in a packed and overloaded lift. We only ask that no more people be let in.”
The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), which advocates rights for new migrants, argued that family reunions were part of human rights and should not be denied. It cited official data indicating new migrants were young, while some 60 per cent of those who needed to stay in hospitals were aged 65 and above.
SoCO added that new migrants were a major source of low-skilled labour, thus contributing to the city’s economic success.