Hong Kong’s leader, medical schools and health department have joined hands to shoot down the latest proposal aimed at luring overseas-trained doctors to ease a chronic manpower shortage at public hospitals.
In a rare move, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor openly slammed the plan, saying it would give the impression doctors were being treated unequally depending on whether they worked at government hospitals, university medical schools or the Department of Health.
The proposal suggests imported doctors be allowed to practise freely anywhere in the city only after completing a period of service in the public sector, the length of which would be shorter if employed by the Hospital Authority, which manages all of Hong Kong’s government hospitals.
The plan was formulated after in-depth discussion among frontline doctors from a number of professional groups. But Lam said such differential treatment could impact efforts to recruit overseas-trained specialists for the health department, which is 40 per cent short of doctors for its child development assessment service.
“I hope the Medical Council will pass a plan that provides equal treatment for all doctors who come from abroad,” Lam said. “I understand the medical sector might want to set different requirements based on clinical considerations, but that would give a bad impression.”
The chief executive said she had asked health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee to talk with the different stakeholders and come up with a better plan before the council, the city’s medical watchdog, considered several proposals on May 8.
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“I don’t want overseas doctors, especially paediatricians, working for the health department to feel inferior because the period they have to stay in the public sector will be longer,” she said.
Her views were later echoed by the health department and the city’s two medical schools.
A spokesman for the department said some doctors’ groups did not fully understand the specialist services offered and job nature of many practitioners at the department, nor the severe manpower shortage it faced.
The latest row comes after the council, which regulates the city’s doctors, faced a barrage of criticism earlier this month for failing to pass any of four proposals to relax the internship requirement currently placed on overseas-trained practitioners.
Completion of the internship, during which doctors learn about the operation of city hospitals, is required before doctors are allowed to practise freely, but the four plans proposed foreign physicians skip it.
The city’s largest doctors’ group, the Medical Association, then gave its approval for the fifth proposal on Thursday.
The association controls seven votes in the 32-member Medical Council. The two medical schools together hold four, and the department and public hospitals each have one representative.
Dr Au Yiu-kai, a former member of the association’s governing team, said so far 16 members of the council had shown support for the latest plan.
It proposes foreign doctors at public hospitals be offered the internship exemption after three years – some 18 months after they would pass the city’s licensing exam. Those at the medical schools however would need to wait at least three years after their exam, and at least four at the Department of Health.
The department spokesman said there were 59 doctors’ positions vacant as of April 1 in a variety of disciplines, including the child assessment service, forensic pathology and social hygiene. He expected vacancies to increase to 120 in the 2019-20 financial year.
The medical school at Chinese University said it also did not agree with the plan.
“This is no different from classifying doctors, and would send a very wrong message to the public that doctors working at the medical schools and the Department of Health are inferior or have less clinical experience,” it said.
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A negative impression would be created of Hong Kong’s medical sector that experts in public health and medical research were not valued or respected, the school added.
The University of Hong Kong’s medical school said it welcomed plans that would help alleviate the manpower shortage and treat overseas doctors fairly.
Dr David Lam Tzit-yuen, vice-president of the Medical Association and a member of the council, defended the proposal. “This is an option we think is more feasible ... and down-to-earth,” he said.
Many doctors agreed it was important to consider the amount of clinical work involved in different positions at the three types of public health facility, rather than just the period of time worked, Lam added. A doctor could be said to have reached a certain standard after accumulating a sufficient volume and variety of clinical work, he said. The government’s Food and Health Bureau said it had set up a platform with key stakeholders to discuss the issue.
This article Latest Hong Kong plan to lure overseas doctors is unequal treatment, says city leader Carrie Lam first appeared on South China Morning Post