Bad blood

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


Undeniably, Hong Kong faces a crushing shortage of public doctors, as an increasing number go into private medicine for a lot more money. Increasing demand from rich mainlanders, who are drawn to the city's world-class medical care, has turned local private hospitals into medical service providers for them and greatly boosted the hospitals' business and resources.

In comparison, the public sector faces an acute shortage of doctors and a lack of human resources. As a result, public doctors work long hours with less money and a lot more pressure. So, it's not difficult to understand why there has been a huge migration from the public to the private sector.

Continuing staff shortages and insufficient resources in the public health care system have significantly increased workloads, which can trigger serious problems. This not only affects the quality of health care services, but also potentially endangers patients. The noticeable increase in medical errors and blunders in public hospitals in recent years could be related to the resource issue.

The problem has reached a critical point. Qualified staff in obstetrics and gynaecology, radiology and anesthesiology are in shortest supply.

The government must take immediate steps to raise budgets and hire more doctors, such as those in private practice who now only work part-time.

The Hospital Authority is also hiring overseas doctors to fill some vacancies in public hospitals. They are not required to sit the relevant licensing examination. This arrangement, to a great extent, looks after the professional interests of local doctors, but they still vehemently object to the stop-gap measure and demand that the authority drop it. The strongest resistance has come from private doctors.

Medical sector legislator Leung Ka-lau, who was a public doctor before recently joining the private sector, seems to have lost his common sense. He has joined the chorus of opposition by defending the vested interests of a small group within the medical functional constituency.

Such opposition is not protecting the public interest or maintaining professional standards. These private doctors are only defending their livelihood at the expense of public health and patient safety, as well as hurting the interests of public doctors. They are going against the interests of Hongkongers, and therefore should not expect any public support or sympathy.

Locally trained doctors have always been highly regarded and well treated, a legacy of the British colonial era, which emphasised Western medical training and professionalism.

Hong Kong-trained doctors are so spoiled that they believe they are the best. But, many have forgotten that they themselves were trained overseas, especially medical specialists.

Doctors should have compassion and their top priority should be the health of patients and providing them with proper medical care. Putting hurdles in the way of recruiting overseas doctors will not only further affect the standard of our public health care system, but will also tarnish the professional image of local doctors.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.