Hong Kong’s public hospitals reached breaking point under the influx of patients during the peak flu season. Despite long waiting queues, many middle-income patients would opt to seek for cancer treatment at Hospital Authority, thinking that cancer treatment drugs would be provided free-of-charge. Many patients would risk to wait, knowing that their conditions may continue to deteriorate over time. Making matters worse, many oncology drugs are, in reality, not included in the list of subsidised medicine at Hospital Authority. This causes considerable financial burdens for many patients from the middle class.
Dr. Cindy Wong, oncologist from Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Centre, recalls a young male patient diagnosed with late stage lung cancer not long ago. The patient seemed to have had it all – a flourishing marriage, happy children as well as a full-fledged career. Unfortunately, the cancer changed his life – he no longer had the energy to go to work; he was also left with immense medical expenses to pay off.
While it is true that recent advances in oncology drugs have changed the way cancer is treated, many drugs are still awaiting to be reviewed and approved for public use at Hospital Authority. The above patient had transferred from private services to Hospital Authority as an attempt to save on medical bills. However, the targeted therapy drugs he had been prescribed with were under the list of self-finance items. The patient had to sell his house to afford his cancer, so that he could spend more time with his loved ones. He felt that he was a significant financial and emotional strain for his family – to a point where he was considering whether to stop further active treatment for himself.
The above picture is not unheard of. Patients in need of funding assistance for self-finance cancer drugs can consider medical assistance programmes led by Samaritan Fund or Community Care Fund. Having said that, the qualification criteria for these funds are often strict, meaning that many middle-income applicants may not be meet the eligibility criteria. It is indeed heart-breaking to hear that some patients would choose to put a pause to their active cancer treatment so as to relieve burdens for their family.
There is still vast room for improvement within Hong Kong’s oncology services. We encourage you to protect yourself and your loved ones with savings as well as the appropriate medical insurance plans.
Original Publication Metro Daily：中產的悲歌