Health tourism demands coordinated action by governments, says Hong Kong’s health permanent secretary

By on 25/07/2016

The emergence of ‘health tourism’ and international markets in surgical procedures present a major challenge to government health departments, Hong Kong’s outgoing permanent secretary for food and health has told Global Government Forum.

Speaking last month in the last week before his retirement, Richard Yuen Ming-fai said that “the new challenge coming is the globalisation of healthcare services”. To respond, he argued, “I think you will see health authorities all over the world having to become more connected [with one another] to deal with this.”

“Our jurisdiction in terms of health regulations is confined within our territory,” he pointed out. “But increasingly people fly to other places to have diseases treated – and if there are problems when they come back, the follow-up is a challenge.” Many people fly overseas for cosmetic surgery, he added: “For example, having Botox injections in other places. If they come back fine, okay. But if they come back and have infections and complications, they suddenly appear in the public hospital system and we have to pick up the pieces.”

This can put pressure on Hong Kong health services, explained Yuen Ming-fai, and local medical staff often lack information about the procedures patients have undergone. “We need resource to deal with this,” he said. “And you’ve got to find out what’s been done over there: what sort of treatment they have received.”

The solution, said the Hong Kong health chief, is stronger collaboration between countries’ health departments. “With this globalisation and patients travelling around, you have to mesh the freedom of having treatment [overseas] with the regulatory system, which is always territory-based,” he argued. “There’s a mismatch and it’s really important in the future for healthcare sectors and health authorities to have closer dialogue with one another, because the regulatory systems are very different in different places.”

For more, see our full interview with Richard Yuen Ming-fai.

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See also:

Exclusive Interview: Richard Yuen Ming-fai, Permanent Secretary for Food and Health (Health), Hong Kong

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About Matt Ross

Matt is a journalist and editor specialising in public services, policymaking, government and management. He was the editor of trade title Civil Service World from 2008 to 2014, serving an audience of senior UK officials; and the features editor of weekly news magazine Regeneration & Renewal between 2002 and 2008, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development. He has also been a motoring and travel journalist, and now combines his role as editorial director of Global Government Forum with writing for other publications including The Guardian and Planning magazine.

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