Private fees deal for HKU doctors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2007, 12:00am

New policy means windfall for medics

University of Hong Kong doctors can pocket up to half the medical fees they earn for the university through their private services, according to a new policy that renews the debate on whether public doctors should take private patients.

Under the arrangement, the university will maintain its 75 per cent cut of private service income, with the Hospital Authority taking 25 per cent. Doctors will get up to 50 per cent of the revenue that goes to the university, while the rest will go to their departments.

Some surgery professors are expected to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from private practice.

At Chinese University, doctors can pocket up to 45 per cent of the income from private services.

HKU's acting associate dean, Chan Tak-mao, dismissed criticism that the university was providing private services for the rich. He said the university was providing a community service through private services.

'Many patients have asked for a medical opinion from university doctors. The service also receives referrals from the private sector for patients with complicated diseases.'

Since 2005, HKU has allowed individual faculties to decide on arrangements for such income. Professor Chan said the medical faculty decided then that doctors should not have a share of the money. But the brain drain from the faculty in the past two years called for a change.

'One cannot ignore the practical reality that there is a substantial difference between the salary of university doctors and the income of doctors with equal professional standing practising in the private sector,' Professor Chan said.

'This issue was therefore revisited in the beginning of this year. The decision was to allow a university doctor to receive a proportion of the income from private practice. Doctors have the option to put this income into a university account for academic purposes.'

He said that while university doctors could work up to two half-day sessions a week on private services, this was not enough to make up for the 'big discrepancy' between salaries in the public and private sectors.

'But it will be a fair arrangement to recognise the time and effort put in by individuals who have chosen to take up private practice.'

The latest decision was made at about the same time as the faculty was dragged into a billing scandal. A committee of inquiry was set up to look into the faculty's arrangements for billing private patients, following the resignation of its former dean, Lam Shiu-kum, in March. But the faculty said the latest policy had nothing to do with the billing incident.

Kwok Ka-ki, the lawmaker for the medical sector, said there had been abuses of the private services system, as some university doctors had been taking routine cases rather than ones requiring specialist expertise.

'I am not saying there should be a blanket ban on private practice by university doctors, but there should at least be clear guidelines on what kind of cases can be taken as private ones.

'Actually, the whole public system is subsidising these university doctors' private practice, such as the cost of nurses and supporting staff.

'Some junior doctors have complained that they have to take up all public cases, but university professors can make their own money out of seeing private patients. They find it very unfair.'

Dr Kwok said private services should not take up more than one-fifth of the total clinical time of a university doctor.

'Some professors only have three sessions in outpatient clinics every week, so if they use two of them on private patients, it means public patients are deprived of the chance to see these professors.'

Dr Kwok said he would contact the two medical schools to express his views.