Culture of fear behind medical reform

Editorial | 12 Jul 2017

The community is delighted to see a fresh attempt being made by the new administration to reform the Medical Council - a task left unfinished by former health boss Ko Wing-man.

Over the weekend, Ko expressed confidence the training of a few hundred more doctors each year would alleviate the shortage of public doctors in eight to 10 years, while reforms to the Medical Council balance the interest between doctors and patients.

The statement makes good sense, but I think it might have been more appropriate for Ko's successor - Sophia Chan Siu-chee - to grab the microphone to promote the important policy.

However, Ko may still be bitter about what happened last year, when Leung Ka-lau, then the lawmaker representing the medical constituency, resorted to filibustering to stall a bill seeking to implement changes.

If it weren't for Leung's deliberate delaying tactics, the bill would have passed, allowing Ko to claim the credit.

Nevertheless, it isn't too late to pass those changes that will slightly increase patients' voice on the Medical Council to enhance its transparency, accountability and credibility, as well as speed up the hearing of complaints - and, more importantly - open the door a little wider to overseas doctors.

In the long term, Hong Kong must admit foreign doctors to meet the shortfall here as the population ages.

Despite last year's setback, there's a real chance for the amendments to be passed by the Legislative Council this time around.

On the one hand, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's popularity reached a new high since her election in March and, on the other hand, many lawmakers share the view the Medical Council ought to be reformed, in the wake of various high- profile medical blunders.

If Leung's filibustering had tipped the scales, history will unlikely repeat itself a year later - now that he's no longer in the chamber.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Medical Association president Choi Kin, a vocal opponent of the reforms, recently armed himself with poll findings indicating 65 percent of doctors are prepared to join a protest against the proposed changes. The association canvassed 13,000 doctors, but only 15 percent responded.

Therefore, Choi's support rests on 65 percent of the 15 percent replying, which is hardly representative.

A fear factor the opponents have played up is people's apprehension that if the doors are opened to overseas practitioners, it could result in an influx of mainland doctors.

That's a smart strategy, for they know it would be politically inconvenient for SAR officials to deny this openly.

But according to the administration, the fact remains not a single mainland- trained doctor has been admitted to local public hospitals.

While the message may be subtle, the denial can't be any clearer.

For sure, the opponents will continue with the fear mongering to sway public opinion, as the bill is deliberated by lawmakers - even though such fears aren't necessarily based on the truth.

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