Medical watchdog reforms overdue
Public confidence in our doctors hinges on their high professionalism and a credible system to handle complaints. While the medical treatments given to patients in Hong Kong are generally among the world's finest, the channels for redress in case of medical blunders and malpractices still leaves a lot to be desired. Although the Medical Council, the self-regulatory body on doctor's affairs, is well aware of its inadequacies, its reform proposals to allow greater public participation and accountability have fallen on deaf ears for more than a decade.
The debate has been renewed by former council chief Felice Lieh Mak following an interview with this paper. The outspoken psychiatry professor recalled how the government missed the best opportunity to reform the council's composition after a public outcry over its decision in 2001 to clear a former surgeon at Queen Mary Hospital of misconduct for having a personal mobile phone conversation during an operation. With only four laymen on the 28-member council, it is only natural that the watchdog has been criticised for protecting doctors' interests with such a ruling. Later, the council was also found to have used unlawful procedures to reject complaints and to have been inconsistent in sentencing.
The case for reform is evident, but progress has been frustratingly slow. It is ironic that the government lacks the will to move ahead when the watchdog is willing to compromise and open up itself to more outsiders. Its proposal to double the number of lay members to eight is a step forward and will counter the impression that the council is biased and protectionist. But officials apparently prefer to stand still or wait until another controversy has prompted a public outcry for change. We hope the new government will press ahead with the proposed changes. The watchdog's composition is crucial to confidence in the profession. To strengthen its credibility, the reform must be handled with a sense of urgency.