Doctors' job to care for all, not themselves

Editorial | 19 Jun 2017

It's disturbing to hear Medical Association president Gabriel Choi Kin dispute the existence of a shortage of doctors in the public health sector, while at the same time alleging a recent government report has "exaggerated" the issue.

There is, most definitely, a shortage and the problem is acute. Otherwise, patients wouldn't have to wait in longer and longer queues in order to be seen by a doctor, and there would be fewer incidents of medical blunders ruining the lives of patients and their families.

If the top doc doesn't appreciate the average citizen's common suffering, he should at least be aware of his members complaining about the extremely long hours they have to work - day in, day out - at public hospitals.

As Choi did his best to fault the Report on Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development with his claims that it failed to consider the manpower question in the private sector, has he ever explained why so many people still continue going to see public doctors, even as authorities are doing their best to discourage them by imposing frustratingly longer waits and recently raising the fees?

Choi owes patients an explanation for his attempt to downplay the chronic issue.

The imbalance is absurd. While public health care is definitely affordable, why is the private sector so expensive? It's a complicated issue.

Do we have enough doctors?

The answer is a resounding "no." That's straightforward - anyone with common sense and in touch with reality should be able to call a spade a spade without hesitation.

Very much to the contrary, there is concern the report may have underestimated the situation rather than exaggerating it.

The SAR could actually need more doctors than what's projected. Then, the report, based on 2015 service standards, would appear to be overly conservative with its headcounts.

It's really high time for Hong Kong to open its door to overseas doctors if the SAR is to bridge the gap, in parallel to its ongoing efforts in training more local doctors.

According to the report, the SAR could face a shortage of more than 1,000 doctors by 2030, and this could even be 1,575 in a worst-case scenario.

Nursing shortage is also acute, with a gap of 1,669 by 2030. Other medical professionals projected to see shortages include dentists, Chinese medicine practitioners, dental hygienists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, optometrists and radiographers.

The government earlier sought to reform the Medical Council, and one of the proposals called for extending the limited registration of overseas doctors in the public sector from one year to three years.

In response, former Medical Association president Louis Shih Tai-cho suggested these overseas doctors be allowed to practice after having been here for 10 to 15 years. That's tricky - what do the overseas doctors do in the meantime? Drive a taxi?

The time has come for the medical elite to give up protectionism for the sake of patients.

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