28 herbalists arrested over false claims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 12:00am

Twenty-eight Chinese medicine practitioners have been arrested this month for allegedly faking documentation in order to get their licences.

The cases are among about 250 involving forged prescription forms which are being investigated by police. About 50 other cases are still to be referred to police.

The arrests are part of a clampdown on Chinese medicine qualifications announced by the Department of Health in 1999.

Under the new licensing system for Chinese medicine practitioners, applicants must prove they have been practising for at least 15 years to avoid taking exams. Old prescriptions are used to support the claims.

A police spokeswoman said scores of submitted prescriptions included eight-digit Hong Kong telephone numbers beginning with the number '2' - a system not in use until 1995.

She said all the people arrested were released on $500 bail and ordered to report back to police one month later. Nobody was charged and investigations were continuing.

A Health Department spokeswoman said the vetting of 8,000 applications by the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong was still under way, but was taking much longer than expected.

A list of qualified Chinese medicine practitioners was originally scheduled to be announced in June.

She said the process was delayed as some applications contained insufficient information and needed verification. The screening was now expected to be completed by the end of the year.

'It is inappropriate to comment on details of the cases as they are being investigated by police,' the spokeswoman said.

Dr Leong Chi-hung, a council member and former legislative councillor representing the medical sector, said only about half of the applications had been processed due to difficulties in assessing academic certificates, patient records, prescription forms, commercial licences and association membership proof.

Another council member said it was difficult to verify the authenticity of qualifications when medical institutions across the mainland and their courses varied greatly.

He said enormous time and effort was invested in looking for inconsistencies.

In one case a 21-year-old applicant claimed he had 15 years' experience.

Under the council's regulations, Chinese medicine doctors who prove they have practised continuously for at least 15 years, as of January 3 last year, will be registered without sitting a licensing examination and registration assessment.

Transitional registration arrangements require those who were practising Chinese medicine on January 3 last year to apply to be listed practitioners and continue practising during the screening period.

Offenders are liable to three years' jail if convicted of breaching the Chinese Medicine Ordinance.