I’m beginning to question these days whether Macau’s health system is being criticized unfairly.   Ever since I’ve started living in Macau some twenty years ago I’ve observed locals and expats alike trailing off to Hong Kong – and more recently to Guangzhou – for medical attention that requires more expertise than a general family doctor.   I was the same.

But thanks to the Covid-induced el restrictions we’ve come to rely on the hospitals and clinics here as our only option, and frankly, my experience has been surprisingly positive.  I received excellent care for example at our public hospital San Januario – attended to by a Portuguese dermatologist for a melanoma that needed surgery; infinite care was taken for the operation and follow up.  My skin specialist in Hong Kong could absolutely not have done a better job.  And think of all the travel time saved, not to mention the money.  What would have cost me many thousands of dollars in Hong Kong, ended up as a few hundred.

The after care service – daily – that I received from Ocean Gardens’ health clinic – faultless.  Never any more than a 10-minute wait to be seen, I could virtually leave my car engine running outside!  Friendly and professional nurses; nothing was too much trouble for them.

Another experience – getting a blood test.  San Januario’s blood department runs to military precision and once I’d figured out the queuing system it was smooth sailing.   I arrived at 9.20am for a 9.30am appointment. The blood collection room is a veritable factory of efficiency – I was in and out and walking down the hill to my office by 9.40am.  Amazing.

Then there’s the generous spirit of our government which provides treatment, totally free of charge, to any permanent resident who has the misfortune to have cancer. I feel that’s something really worth acknowledging and appreciating.

Again San Januario comes up trumps with the way they’re handling the Covid vaccination programme.  Appointments made on line, with useful reminders sent.  Superbly organized ‘processing’, from the cheerful welcome and blood pressure test, the empathetic doctors on standby for those whose pressure were a tad high, to the lines of cubicles manned by medical staff that spoke perfectly adequate English for the various pre-vaccine questions asked.  A printout of an official looking medical certificate was thrust in our hands as proof that a vaccine had been administered, and after the 2 shots, further proof in the form of a plastic, credit card sized card, all beautifully printed with one’s name, ID, vaccine dates etc. And if that wasn’t enough, the record of one having had the vaccines is added to our Health Declaration mobile app, with even a picture of the vaccination record card.

I found myself thinking that no way would we have this kind of efficiency in the UK.  My 90 year old mother had her first vaccination on 16 January this year and only after repeated requests and complaints did we finally get a date for her second vaccine – 29 April!  And the official proof of vaccination being issued?  A piece of card, cut to the size of a credit card with the details … handwritten.  I mean, come on!  So simple to have copied, how much authority will these hold if, when the time comes, UK citizens are asked to present vaccine proof for traveling?

As with everything there are downsides.  I understand from a local mother with a diabetic child for example that incredibly there is NO specialist in diabetes in Macau.  For such a relatively common ailment, can this be right?

But let’s give further credit where credit is due.  Friends have had similar positive stories as my own.   A few years ago an Australian chum, long term Macau resident, had open-heart surgery at San Januario.  I gasped when I heard this.  But no, he received impeccable treatment, albeit from surgeons that came in from Hong Kong to operate and he having a highly efficient mainland Chinese wife who could navigate the system and speak the lingo.  10 years later he’s still around to tell the tale!

Macau has 4 hospitals.  A fifth will soon open at the end of Cotai.  Then there’s the 7 health care centers.   I’d say that for a teeny town like ours with only 650 thousand inhabitants that’s pretty good going, wouldn’t you.

As long as stringent controls are in place to ensure that our medical staff are properly trained and appropriately experienced – let’s be honest, standards of health care are only as good as the ones who deliver it – then I propose we give Macau thumbs up on their medical services efforts and less of a bad rap.

Written by Suzanne Watkinson for the Macau Closer Magazine, June 2021