Politicians offer prescription for HK’s troubled public hospitals: more overseas doctors, fewer immigrants

19-Mar-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The Democratic Party has called on authorities to improve Hong Kong’s public health care by hiring more overseas doctors without requiring them to take the city’s licensing exam, and by reducing the daily quota of one-way permits for immigrants.

On Sunday, lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan and party member Ramon Yuen Hoi-man released the results of a party survey that showed 57 per cent of Hong Kong residents who responded were unhappy with the service at public hospitals, while just 23 per cent said they were satisfied.

Members of the Democratic Party said they interviewed 959 Hongkongers from February 2 to early this month, and asked them what they thought of the city’s troubled public health system – and what could be done to fix it.

A number of complaints emerged from the poll: 27 per cent of participants said the wait for service was too long at public hospitals, and 25 per cent said there were not enough beds and the wards were overcrowded. Sixteen per cent said there were not enough doctors or nurses to care for patients.

On possible solutions, 18 per cent said more public money should be spent on health care, and 17 per cent said the number of immigrants entering Hong Kong through the so-called one-way permit scheme should be reduced. Sixteen per cent said more medical professionals should be hired.

Yuen also said he wanted to see changes in the controversial migrant scheme that allows 150 mainlanders per day to move to the city.

Localist groups have blamed the one-way permit scheme for overcrowding at public hospitals and the shortage of public housing. Yuen said the daily quota should be reduced, with older parents or adult applicants given a lower priority than young parents and children.

As it stands, overseas doctors, including those trained in the Commonwealth, must pass a licensing examination to work in Hong Kong. In the Democratic Party poll, 54 per cent of respondents said the licensing requirement should be scrapped.

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Under the city’s limited registration scheme, overseas doctors can work in Hong Kong without passing the licensing test but they are limited to working in the public sector – at such as public hospitals or medical schools – with a contract to be renewed every three years.

These overseas doctors, however, must pass the exam if they want to work in Hong Kong’s private sector. Critics have said the licensing exam was discouraging overseas doctors from working in Hong Kong in the first place.

Wong, the lawmaker, proposed changing the system to allow overseas doctors to switch to private hospitals without taking the exam if they completed eight years of work in the city’s public hospitals.

“After the first three years, we hope that they will stay for five more years before deciding whether to leave the public sector,” she said.

Pledge of staff boost at Hong Kong’s stretched public hospitals

Yuen proposed requiring doctors to stay in public hospitals for five more years after they had obtained specialist qualifications. Local doctors can currently obtain specialist qualifications after working in public hospitals for six years, but they can leave any time after they become specialists.

“A lot of doctors just leave immediately because the private sector is so lucrative. But they should stay in public hospitals to make sure there is a long-term and stable supply of doctors,” he said.

Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, a well-known physician and former president of Chinese University, said on a radio programme on Sunday that he had noticed that the morale among public hospital staff was low, partly because there was too much clerical work and stress.

He said administrative work at public hospitals should be reduced to let medical professionals spend more time with patients.

Sung returned to work at Prince of Wales Hospital last year after stepping down from the university post he had held since 2010. He said the work environment at public hospitals had deteriorated since he left.

A spokesman for the Hospital Authority, which runs the city’s 43 public hospitals, reiterated that the authority was concerned about the shortage of doctors in Hong Kong.

The authority has rolled out a series of measure to hire and retain medical professionals, such as providing more training and recruiting retired employees.

He said the authority would continue to hire overseas doctors through the limited registration scheme.



Category: Hong Kong

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