Medical watchdog to endorse new proposal governing foreign doctors in HK, but patients’ group says it is just an old idea packaged differently

27-Apr-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

A new proposal to exempt overseas doctors from a year-long internship in Hong Kong is likely to be endorsed by the sector’s watchdog next month, a leading local medical association said on Friday.

The new option, which arose out of a meeting between health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee and major doctors’ groups on Thursday night, requires overseas-trained specialists who complete the city’s licensing exam, but hope to be exempted from a 12-month internship, to serve full-time for at least 11/2 years in public hospitals.

But a patients’ rights group has said the Hong Kong Medical Association’s plan is no different to its old plan, which was criticised by the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. The group accused the association of resorting to trickery to get its way.

Despite criticism, association president Dr Ho Chun-ping said: “I think this time we should be able to get enough support [to pass the proposal].”

The new proposal’s requirement would apply to overseas doctors working in medical schools, the Department of Health, and the Hospital Authority, which manages all of Hong Kong’s public hospitals. After the service in public hospitals, the doctors can be officially registered in the city and can practise freely.

But in city suffering from a chronic shortage of doctors in the public sector, Tim Pang Hung-cheong, a patients’ rights advocate with the Society for Community Organisation, believed the new plan could actually prove worse for those working in the health department.

“This new plan is really resorting to trickery,” he said.

Pang said the new proposal would force the department to send its overseas staff to public hospitals to serve full-time for 11/2 years before they could come back and work there.

Pang added that medical schools often required their staff to spend half of their time teaching and researching, and the other half serving in public hospitals. That means the schools’ overseas employees would still need three years to finish the requirement.

The association had initially suggested their foreign-trained colleagues spend at least 18 months in public hospitals after passing the city’s licensing exam to get a full license. Those at the city’s medical schools at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, however, would need to serve at least three years in the schools after the exam, and those at the Department of Health at least four years in the department, to get licensed.

Society has increasingly urged the medical sector to exempt overseas doctors from prolonged internship requirements, but the last plan proposed by the association, which remains influential in the sector’s decision making, had been slammed for by Lam for promoting unequal treatment.

Speaking on a radio programme on Friday, association president Dr Ho Chun-ping said: “Once registered, those doctors can start their own clinics… so we need to be very strict and cautious [in licensing them]. The proposal will be beneficial to all.”

A government spokesman said the association raised the new proposal at Thursday’s meeting, but other participants had reservations over the requirement that the 18-month service could only happen in public hospitals, instead of at medical schools and the health department.

The spokesman said participants did not reach a consensus over the proposals and would further discuss it further.

Chan said she did not believe working was easier at the medical schools or the department, and those places were also facing a severe manpower shortage.

“We hope to treat all the organisations equally so they can effectively attract overseas doctors to give their best contributions to the organisations,” the health minister said.

The proposal, together with others ideas from different groups, will be sent to the Medical Council, which regulates the city’s doctors, to consider and vote on, on May 8.

The council previously failed on April 3 to pass any of four proposals.

Ho said his association had already gained enough support in the council to pass its proposal.

“This time the votes should be enough,” he said. “But if other proposals are chosen, we will still respect the decision and cooperate.”

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


Category: Hong Kong

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