Doctors trying to scupper overseas hiring

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am


A move by the Hospital Authority to hire overseas doctors to address a staffing crisis will face stiff resistance from a powerful group of local doctors on the Medical Council, which has the power to scupper the plan.

The Medical Association, which has seven seats on the 28-strong Medical Council, is concerned that an overseas recruitment drive could compromise service quality. It is trying to unite with other members to prevent the authority's plan.

Doctors who practise in Hong Kong with 'limited registration' do not need to take the council's licensing examination and can be exempted from a one-year internship. They can also only work at public hospitals and clinics.

Association president Dr Choi Kin, a council member, said the association's seven representatives on the council would vote against applications by the authority for limited registration for overseas doctors it wanted to hire. He thought most of the council's seven directly elected members shared the same view.

Any application for limited registration required a majority vote by the council for approval.

'The Medical Council has to safeguard patient safety,' Choi said. 'The licensing examination is an important tool to assess doctors' ability. The authority should not abuse limited registration to solve a manpower shortage. I am confident there will be 14 votes rejecting the applications.'

The council also has four lay members and 10 representing the Department of Health, the Hospital Authority, the two medical schools and the Academy of Medicine.

An authority committee will today study the recruitment plan, which offers one-year contracts to overseas doctors, targeting Hongkongers who are practising overseas.

Directly elected Medical Council member Dr Paul Shea Tat-ming said the authority had failed to produce figures to support its plan.

Shea, a former president of the Public Doctors' Association, said: 'Hundreds of doctors are put on night calls at public hospitals every day; do we really need so many doctors on call? I am open to hiring of overseas doctors but unfortunately the authority has been refusing to tell us doctors' ratio to population or to patients; it can't justify the hiring of overseas doctors.'

But another Medical Council member, Academy of Medicine vice-president Dr Donald Li Kwok-tung, said he would support the authority if the overseas doctors had suitable experience and the qualifications to serve Hong Kong people.

'We have to bear in mind that doctors from different places may have cultural differences, and the funding mechanism of different health care systems affects medical practice,' Li said.

'For example, a British doctor from the National Health Service system may not approve a particular kind of treatment because of funding concerns, but it may not be the case in Hong Kong. The authority has to make sure the overseas candidates understand Hong Kong.'

Council member Professor Cindy Lam Lo-kuen, head of family medicine at Hong Kong University, said limited registration was not new and the council would study staffing carefully before approving applications.

'The applicants have to tell us why they cannot find local doctors to fill the vacancies,' she said.

Medical Council chairwoman Professor Felice Lieh Mak said in March that the 'public interest' would be the top consideration for the council in deciding on the issue.