Doctors and Hong Kong government move closer to agreement on procedures for staff trained overseas

Ng Kang-chung
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Doctors and Hong Kong government move closer to agreement on procedures for staff trained overseas

The medical sector and the government have narrowed their differences over how to relax the rules for overseas-trained doctors to work in Hong Kong, after a leading professional group expressed goodwill in a meeting with the health minister on Thursday night.

Sophia Chan Siu-chee also said there had been a positive response to proposals that the application procedures should be streamlined for overseas-trained specialist doctors to come to work in the city, and that there should also be more promotion opportunities for them.

The health minister said there had been a “good exchange of views”, and described the atmosphere of the meeting as “harmonious and constructive”.

She was speaking after meeting representatives of various medical groups, including the Medical Association, the Medical Council, the Academy of Medicine and the city’s two medical schools.

On the so-called equal treatment controversy, Chan said: “The Medical Association expressed goodwill. They proposed giving equal treatment. I believe that the association will talk to its members regarding the detailed time requirement.”

At centre of the row is the latest proposal, which was formulated after discussion among frontline doctors from a number of professional groups.

Under the proposal, overseas-trained specialists, who complete the city’s licensing exam and hope to be exempted from the internship requirement, would need to complete a period of service in the public sector. The service period, though, would be shorter for those who work under the Hospital Authority, which manages all of Hong Kong’s public hospitals.

The proposal suggested that foreign-trained doctors at public hospitals spend at least three years there, including 18 months after passing the city’s licensing exam.

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Those at the city’s medical schools, located at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, however, would need to wait at least three years after their exam, and those at the Department of Health at least four years.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier said the plan did not give equal treatment to all overseas-schooled specialists working in different public institutions. She added that this would give a bad impression.

Following Lam’s criticism, both Chinese University and the University of Hong Kong said they did not agree with the plan, adding that all overseas doctors should be treated fairly. The Department of Health also said some doctors’ groups did not understand the severe manpower shortages the department was confronting.

Thursday’s meeting was intended to devise new proposals to attract overseas doctors to the city. The proposals would be sent to the Medical Council, which regulates the city’s doctors, to consider and vote on, on May 8.

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The council previously failed on April 3 to pass any of four proposals, which aimed at exempting overseas-trained specialists from internship requirements that they are currently subject to.

Under the existing requirements, doctors trained overseas who hope to practise freely in the city must pass the city’s licensing exam and take an internship which requires them to do basic chores.

Chan also said she would meet representatives from the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, the Government Doctors’ Association, and the Frontline Doctors’ Union on Friday.

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