Major health reshuffle set for coming months

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am


Some of the city's most senior health officials, including the director of health and the food and health minister, will step down in the next few months, due to retirement or the end of their contracts.

Health department director Dr Lam Ping-yan (pictured) will stand down as early as next month, the South China Morning Post has learned, with Centre for Food Safety controller Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee earmarked to replace her. And Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok is not expected to join the administration of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, with former Hospital Authority official Dr Ko Wing-man his likely replacement. Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk is also not expected to renew his contract, which ends in November.

The changes, the biggest shake-up of public health in decades, have been broadly welcomed by doctors. The new team will face challenges including an imbalance between the public and private health sectors and a shortage of staff in public hospitals, as well as and issues such as the influx of mainland women giving birth in the city.

The Department of Health refused to comment on the imminent reshuffle, but sources familiar with the matter say it is understood that Chan will succeed Lam, who has run the department for nine years since Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun left to lead the World Health Organisation in 2003. They add that June 12 is slated as Lam's last day in office, with Chan, a specialist in public health, taking over the following day.

'Chan has done a good job in her previous work and has worked in different departments before being the food safety controller,' Dr Chow Pak-chin, a Medical Association council member, said. 'She is also experienced in handling the media and has a good public image.'

Her likely appointment indicates Lam's deputy, Dr Gloria Tam Lai-fan, and Centre For Health Protection controller Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai have missed out on promotion.

Ko, who resigned from the Hospitals Authority in 2003 in the aftermath of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, now works as a private doctor. He refused to comment, but he is expected to become secretary for food and health .

Professor Ho Pak-leung, a former president of the Public Doctors' Association, said Ko's experience as both a frontline doctor and manager in the public and private sectors, as well as his support for Leung's election campaign, meant the choice was 'not surprising at all'.

Ho expects one priority for the new health minister will be to continue medical reforms to rebalance the number of patients and doctors in the private sector. At present 90 per cent of patients seek treatment at public hospitals, while 60 per cent of doctors work at private hospitals.

'A newcomer to the job will be more likely to make a breakthrough on the subject, which has dragged on for almost a decade under Chow,' Ho said.

Wu's replacement has yet to be identified, but some doctors believe it will be former secretary for education Dr Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, a surgeon. The Hospital Authority could not confirm that. One public doctor said he had concerns about Li's 'heavy-handed' leadership style.

The Civil Service Bureau said announcements on senior appointments would be made in due course, but would not confirm the details.