Doctors wait for HA vote before sealing deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am

The largest doctors' union last night decided to wait until after Thursday's Hospital Authority board meeting before showing their hand on a $629 million offer to settle a six-year dispute over on-call work during public holidays.

Under the proposal, about 6,200 doctors would receive one-off payments of between $61,000 and $222,000 for an average of two to six months' non-payment of work between January 2000 and last December. The doctors' claim for compensation was upheld by the Court of First Instance on March 1.

Fifteen council members of the Public Doctors' Association met for nearly four hours last night to try to reach a consensus on the deal, forged through months of negotiations by a Doctors' Working Group.

'We decided we will issue a statement after the formal announcement of the HA on Thursday,' said association president Paul Shea Tat-ming. 'A lot of issues' were raised at the meeting that could be answered only during the authority's board meeting.

The authority's board will decide at the Thursday meeting whether to accept the agreement and is almost certain to do so.

Dr Shea said the union's council wants to know if there are any other conditions attached to the proposed offer. 'In general the doctors welcomed the proposal but it depends on the conditions of the offer,' he said before the council convened last night.

'If they say the offer just includes the compensation on rest days and public and statutory holidays, most of the doctors will sign. But if their proposal says you have to give up all your rights in working hours and other working conditions, it will be a problem.'

The association's council must agree on the offer before putting it to members. The $629 million offer was based on an actuarial study by independent consultants. The authority is hoping 95 per cent of doctors will agree to the plan.

Dr Shea also yesterday disputed a Hong Kong Polytechnic study that found that overworked public hospital doctors could be a myth or the result of mismanagement by hospitals and the authority.

Principal investigator Peter Yuen Pok-man estimated that each doctor had to work 1,077 'patient-days' last year, compared with 2,001 in 1993. Patient days are the number of days of inpatient care provided to a population during a specified period. There were almost twice as many doctors last year as there were 12 years ago.

But Dr Shea argued that advances in technology, higher public expectations and the explosion of knowledge through the internet had increased doctors' workloads.

'Even if you [hire] 1,000 more public doctors, there will still be insufficient doctors,' Dr Shea said.

The HA had refused to calculate the workload of each doctor, despite requests, 'because if they do so, they will find [Hong Kong] will deviate from the rest of the world'.