Surgeon sees cure to doctor shortage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2011, 12:00am


A leading surgeon from the University of Hong Kong has supported a plan to bring in overseas doctors without requiring them to sit a licensing exam, saying it will help solve the 'serious' manpower shortage in public hospitals.

Lo Chung-mau (pictured), an HKU professor and head of surgery at Queen Mary Hospital, said: 'Shutting the doors [to outside doctors] is not the way to protect our profession. I have seen overseas doctors working very hard in my hospital.

'It takes 10 to 13 years to train a medical specialist,' he pointed out yesterday on RTHK programme City Forum, where he debated with two doctors opposed to the plan.

Lo said doctors exempted from exams would be employed on a contract basis and restricted to certain specialist departments in public hospitals. They would also be supervised by senior staff, he said.

However, Dr Tse Hung-hing, a member of the Medical Council, which administers the licensing test and ensures quality in the medical profession, said it would be 'damaging to Hong Kong's core values' to lift the requirement for an exam.

'We should be relying on exams, which provide objective assessments, and not personal connections,' Tse said.

Despite strong opposition from local doctors, the Hospital Authority - which manages the city's public hospitals - will submit a list of foreign applicants next month to the council.

A panel of experienced doctors and professors from local medical schools will screen the applicants for registration. Qualified ones will be hired to fill vacancies in public hospitals. In the past year, 262 doctors left the public system.

The Hospital Authority needs to recruit 500 more doctors this financial year to replace staff and to develop new services, but it expects to hire just 330, largely because of a lack of qualified local recruits.

Only 260 doctors graduate from the city's medical schools each year, though schools plan to increase the number to 320 by 2015.

Dr Leung Ka-lau, the legislator representing the medical sector, opposed the hiring of foreign doctors, saying it was a way to cover up the Hospital Authority's mismanagement of resources.

The waiting time for specialists varies greatly in different districts - from 92 weeks for an ear, nose and throat treatment in New Territories West to just one week for the same treatment in Kowloon Central - and 'the simplest solution is to let citizens choose any hospital, regardless of where they live', Leung says.

Cheung Tak-hei, a patients' rights advocate, urged the government to train more doctors in the long run.

The Medical Association last Tuesday voiced objections to the Hospital Authority over the scheme. They said the authority failed to explain the uneven distribution of doctors among public hospitals and that bringing in foreign recruits would not ease staff shortages in the long-term.