The coming November marks the fifth anniversary of the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital.

A Pioneer For
Healthcare Reform
In China

The eyes of the world are on the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital, which was conceived as a model for reforming and modernising China’s healthcare system. Five years since its establishment, the Hospital is well on its way to fulfilling its mission.

On November 14, 2011, the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital was formally established as a bold experiment to bring modern medical practices into China. Under HKU’s management with Shenzhen Government support, the pressure was on to act quickly and make an impact. By all sorts of indicators, the enterprise has been a great success to date.


Doctors from all over China and from Hong Kong have come to work at the Hospital and some have come from the UK. Patient numbers have risen steadily to more than 4,000 per day. Thousands of media articles in China have reported on the Hospital’s successes, as have overseas outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and specialist health journals. All of this has been achieved in just a few short years, since the Hospital’s opening on July 1, 2012.


“We have been going really fast and people in the field say it has never happened that a hospital can reach this kind of magnitude in such a short time,” the Hospital’s Chief Executive, Professor Grace Tang Wai-king said. “It’s tough work but I believe it is something we should do.”


The task is about far more than numbers, though. The HKU-Shenzhen Hospital is changing culture. Doctors are not expected to find much of their own funding-unlike other parts of China, red packets, queue jumping and doctor shopping are not permitted, and the Hospital management system meets international standards. Both healthcare workers and patients are expected to be respectful towards each other.

Accompanied by Professor Grace Tang (second from left), Dr Margaret Chan (centre), Director-General of the World Health Organization, paying a visit to the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital.

Guangdong Party Secretary Mr Wang Yang (centre) led delegation to visit the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital in 2012.

New ways make an impact


“Ultimately, we want to have a positive impact on the rest of China,” said Professor Patrick Chu, who had been in the UK for 32 years before he came here for a three-year posting as Chief of Service of Medicine in 2012. He continues to shuttle back and forth between Shenzhen and his family in the UK. “This is such a far-sighted, visionary project that HKU has undertaken.”


It is happening with the full blessing of the Shenzhen and National Governments, which are starting to extend the Hospital’s practices to the rest of their healthcare systems.


Top of the list is the appointment system. People can book through the Internet, app, phone or as walk-in patients. No favours for friends or others – “for nobody else, including myself,” Professor Tang said, “we want to keep it very honest and fair.” Health bureaus across China are starting to implement a similar system. “We used to say we are the only one, now we say we are the first,” she said.


The Hospital also has a primary care system that directs patients to general practitioners, rather than going to specialists for everything as is typical in China. Patients are treated through team consultations, rather than cherry-picking their doctors.


Primary care payment is also novel to the Mainland. Patients pay one single fee that includes medicine, and doctors are properly compensated so they do not need red packets. There is a Patients’ Charter outlining rights and responsibilities and a Patient Relations Office to build up trust. Extensive training is also offered to healthcare staff to ensure everyone upholds the same standards.

We are trying to bring the best of the University here, with our traditional
emphasis on doing work based on strong science and accurate data and on the
integrity of the investigators and patient confidentiality.

Professor Patrick Chu

Teaching and research benefits for HKU


The HKU-Shenzhen Hospital benefits HKU, too. Academic staff attend regularly, attracted by the opportunity to see novel or unusual clinical cases and to enrich their research. Already, they have received some RMB23 million for 35 projects. HKU medical students do short attachments and benefit from exposure to a wider variety of cases – this year more than 700 students will visit the Hospital.


“We are trying to bring the best of the University here, with our traditional emphasis on doing work based on strong science and accurate data and on the integrity of the investigators and patient confidentiality,” Professor Chu said, adding: “Without HKU, this Hospital would not exist in its present form. It would become another big hospital in China.”


The Hospital will be expanding its research capability. A clinical trials centre will soon open and approval has been received to build a stand-alone research institute. Academics from around China and around the world are also visiting regularly, keen to pursue collaborative research.


Professor Tang, who will retire later this year (see People), can step down knowing the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital has fulfilled the first stage of its mission. This has required hard work and persistence by all involved and in another context, she summed up the task poetically: “Rainbows may emerge after the rain, but the path of reform is never paved with flowers.” The achievements so far, however, have planted seeds for a promising future.  

The HKU-Shenzhen Hospital, as a teaching hospital, has introduced Hong Kong’s medical system into Shenzhen and serves as a reference for medical system reform in the Mainland.