Bill on way allowing foreign-trained doctors to work in HK

Top News | Jane Cheung 4 May 2021

A bill to relieve the shortage of medics by helping foreign-trained Hong Kong doctors to return to the city will be tabled in the Legislative Council this month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says.

The two local medical schools - the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong - won't be able to solve the shortage, said Lam when she addressed the Hospital Authority Convention at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai yesterday.

She also slammed some health-care workers for "politicizing" the government's anti-epidemic measures.

Under the proposed bill to amend the Medical Registration Ordinance, SAR residents trained in fewer than 100 recognized overseas institutions as doctors will be able to practice in the city once they have worked in public institutions for five years after securing their specialist qualifications.

But there was no mention of these doctors having to go through a licensing exam, which local doctors' groups insist on.

"We are facing a shortage of doctors, especially of specialists, which worsens the situation at heavily loaded public hospitals - making patients wait longer for services," Lam said.

The two universities are accepting double or 530 medical students a year, but that won't solve the shortage of 660 doctors, said Lam, who called on medical practitioners to support the change.

Lam praised health-care workers for combating the pandemic.

"Medics at the Hospital Authority are courageous and sacrificial, making Hong Kong one of the few places around the world where all Covid-19 patients could receive proper treatment," she said.

But she criticized a small minority for politicizing public health measures and spreading fake information.

"The Covid-19 pandemic emerged during violent unrest against the central and SAR government," she said.

"Destruction brought by false information was a painful experience.

"A small minority of people continuously attacked the government's anti-epidemic efforts, twisted the purpose of the territory-wide community test program last September and smeared mainland-made vaccine Sinovac."

Authority chairman Henry Fan Hung-ling said as Hong Kong sees an aging population, sustainability of the public health system becomes a crucial topic.

He welcomed authorities to import more Hong Kong doctors trained overseas.

Chief executive Tony Ko Pat-sing said the SAR population will grow from 7.5 million last year to more than eight million in 2036, with the ratio of elderly people above 65 increasing to 30 percent from the 18 percent now.

"Chronic diseases will also become more and more common, and they affect more than elderly people. More and more middle-aged citizens between 40 and 64 suffer from such illnesses," he said.

He added that the number of chronically ill would increase by half to three million in 2039, up from two million in 2019.

He said the increasing demand for medical services will soon surpass the supply and pose challenges to the 90,000 staff at public hospitals.

Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who submitted a private bill which proposes overseas doctors should be allowed to work in Hong Kong without sitting an exam, said the SAR's doctor per capita ratio is two per 1,000 citizens, one of the lowest among advanced countries in Asia.

"It is foreseen that by 2030 there will be a severe shortfall of 3,244 medical personnel," he said.

He said between 1990 and 1995, when Hong Kong still accepted overseas-trained doctors, 200 doctors were introduced annually - which constituted about 42 percent of new doctors every year.

Since the policy was ditched in 1997, only 457 overseas doctors have been allowed to practice in Hong Kong.

But both doctors and patients were worried about the quality of doctors if they are exempted from taking an exam.

The chairwoman of the Public Doctors' Association, Arisina Ma Chung-yee, questioned authorities' ability to assess performance by overseas doctors when there are no exams.

"How is Hospital Authority going to take over the gatekeeper role? How are we supposed to assess a person during work? Will that assessment be as comprehensive as an exam?" she asked.

Alex Lam Chi-yau of Patients' Voices also voiced concerns about the inconsistent quality of overseas doctors.

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