Temperatures rising in fight over doctors trained abroad

Top News | Jane Cheung 20 May 2021

Doctor and patient groups have exchanged fire over the import of foreign-trained doctors amid official plans to allow Hong Kong residents from 100 overseas medical schools to work in the city without licensing examinations.

The proposed Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2021 will be tabled for the first reading at the Legislative Council on June 2.

Authorities said the bill will open a new path for residents who are doctors overseas to practice in the city.

But they must work full time for one of the four public health-care institutions - the Hospital Authority, the Department of Health and medical schools at the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University - for five years after obtaining specialist qualifications.

Unlike the existing policy, overseas doctors will no longer be required to pass a licensing exam before they turn to private practice. The bill will allow skip the exam as long as they are rated satisfactory during their service at the public organizations. Authorities will handpick a list of 100 medical schools around the world and only recognize their graduates.

The list will be decided by a 10-man panel, including six ex-officio members - Medical Council chairman, two deans from medical schools at HKU and CUHK, and representatives from the Department of Health, Hospital Authority and Academy of Medicine - plus four to be appointed by the chief executive.

However, Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association president Arisina Ma Chung-yee said all members of the panel would be "from the government's side" and questioned their knowledge on front-line working conditions after "moving to administrative and academic positions long ago."

She added: "I'm afraid they don't know very well whether a person is suitable for a busy working environment and whether they can cooperate with colleagues."

Ma said she had been in touch with foreign-trained doctors and some of them can only communicate in English. "Some people have a Hong Kong ID card, but they don't know how to speak Cantonese. But if there is a licensing exam, we can easily assess whether they are up to standard," she said.

Patient rights advocate Tim Pang Hung-cheong from the Society for Community Organization slammed Ma for "fixating on details" while patients are queueing for public services for years.

"There have been people dying while waiting at accident and emergency departments and lung cancer patients have to wait for months for their surgeries," he said. "But [Ma] holds onto the small matters such as whether their Cantonese is good, whether their English is okay. It reminds me of the 'let them eat cake' quote."

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the panel can appoint front-line doctors and patient group representatives to include their voices. She added she has heard from many Hongkongers studying medicine in Britain and Australia expressing willingness to practice in the SAR.


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