HKU dean of medicine quits amid fees probe

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am

Lam Shiu-kum's move and inquiry casts shadow over faculty's 125th anniversary

University of Hong Kong's dean of medicine has resigned from the top post yesterday amid an investigation into the faculty's billing of private procedures fees.

Lam Shiu-kum has tendered his resignation 'for personal reasons', which was made known to staff in an e-mail issued by chairman of the faculty board, Chow Shew-ping, yesterday morning.

The news of his resignation and the investigation by the university deals another blow to the faculty, which has suffered a high employee turnover with staff complaining of poor morale. In October, liver surgeon Fan Sheung-tat resigned, but later decided to stay on.

It also casts a shadow over plans to celebrate the faculty's 120th anniversary this year.

Professor Lam, a gastroenterologist, informed Vice-Chancellor Tsui Lap-chee that 'he intends to resign' for 'personal reasons', according to Professor Chow's e-mail. His resignation came 17 months before his five-year term is up.

Three sources familiar with the situation said last night that the investigation was related to the billing of private services.

University doctors can see private patients and charge private rates. The incomes are split between the Hospital Authority, the university and departments.

One medical source who is familiar with the faculty's operation said there had long been a lack of monitoring of these fees. Frontline doctors have long been concerned about the lack of transparency concerning the financial arrangement.

'It is a big amount. For example, the surgical department alone can make more than HK$10 million a year. But for years frontline doctors are not told where the money goes, it is a black hole,' the source said.

He said some doctors had tried to get information without success.

'No one dares to talk about their discontent about the lack of transparency publicly,' another medical source said.

Lo Chung-man, the faculty's assistant dean, said last night that he heard about the resignation on Monday. He said there were clear rules on splitting the income from private consultations.

A faculty spokesman last night did not reply to the Post's inquiry about the investigation.

'The faculty will not comment on any speculation related to Professor S.K. Lam's resignation.'

A Hospital Authority spokesman also refused to comment.

Professor Lam, who is also the personal physician of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, presided over the school during the fierce row over its renaming as the Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine after the tycoon donated it HK$1 billion, sparking protests from alumni, professors and the students.

Professor Lam, 64, left for an overseas holiday last week and is expected to return on March 24.

He was elected as dean in 2001, but in that three-year term, a move was made to make the deanship by appointment. He was appointed in 2003 for a five-year term that was due to end in August next year and carried a six-month notice period.

He could not be reached last night. An e-mail reply: 'I'm currently out of town. Thanks.'

Associate deans Ricky Man Ying-keung and Raymond Liang Hin-suen will take turns to be acting dean.

The university council will consider the matter at a scheduled meeting this month.