Ruling on doctors a 'dangerous precedent'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am

The court has set a 'dangerous' precedent by declaring unlimited working hours for public doctors, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark litigation action said yesterday.

Leung Ka-lau, former president of the Public Doctors' Association and one of the 165 doctors who sued the Hospital Authority for overtime pay, is likely to appeal against yesterday's ruling which he said would seriously affect quality of medical services.

The court ruled that while doctors can claim compensation for working on rest days and statutory holidays, they cannot expect compensation for working overtime. The judgment said a monthly $3,500 honorarium paid to public doctors compensated for their overtime work.

Dr Leung, also a senior surgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital, said some doctors have to work 32 hours non-stop but under yesterday's judgment, they would get no compensation for the work.

'It means doctors have unlimited working hours. It is dangerous. It is also in breach of the authority's contracts with doctors, which sets working hours at 44 per week.'

Dr Leung also disagreed with the court's definition of 'work'. According to the judgment, doctors who are on-call at the hospital should be regarded as 'working', but outside the hospital should not be counted as 'working'.

Legislator representing the medical sector, Kwok Ka-ki, also was disappointed there would be no reasonable compensation for doctors' time when they were on call, saying: 'On-call duty doesn't mean no work is involved.'

Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk said the judgment gave doctors and the authority 'a very clear understanding' of the meaning of overtime, statutory holidays and rest days. 'We respect the judgment and we will, of course, abide by it,' he said. But he would not say how much the authority would pay.

He added: 'Half of the judgment is in our favour and the other part found in the plaintiffs' favour. So I think there are many things that are not decided yet and we are seeking legal counsel's advice on whether there is a valid case for appeal.'

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said this was an opportunity for the Hospital Authority to address doctors' working conditions and to improve morale.