Private doctors' rescue bid fails
Emily Tsang and Patsy Moy
A scheme to ease the manpower shortage at public hospitals with the help of private doctors has been declared a 'failure' just four months after its launch.
The scheme was set up by private doctors opposed to the Hospital Authority's plan to hire foreign medics to fill some of its 200 vacancies.
Doctors who want to take part say the authority has been too slow in allocating duties, while the work offered has been unsuitable.
But they, in turn, have been accused of trying to 'cherry pick' jobs and turning down duties that fail to meet their expectations.
'The scheme is a failure,' said Medical Association president Dr Choi Kin, who blamed a lack of flexibility by the Hospital Authority.
'We have already received complaints from many doctors that they have been waiting for four months without hearing any reply.
'Those doctors who have the goodwill to help public hospitals are feeling [left out].'
Since the scheme's launch in September, only 30 private doctors have been assigned duties. A further 100 were still waiting, said a Hospital Authority source. The doctors are expected to be paid market rates, but some have offered discounts.
Dr Paul Shea Tat-ming, a specialist in geriatric medicine, signed up for the scheme last month, but had to turn down an invitation to work at Sha Tin Hospital.
'It is not cost-effective for any doctors to spend hours in traffic between the New Territories and Central, where most specialists run their clinics,' Dr Shea said. He said the authority should have arranged for private doctors to assist at hospitals closer to their clinics.
Another private specialist refused to travel from his clinic in Kowloon to take up work at Tuen Mun Hospital that he considered unsuitable.
'I could not afford the time to travel for two hours to Tuen Mun to see patients for a few hours,' he said.
'And as a specialist [in family medicine], I have not been seeing patients with flu and coughs for many years [so] it is quite embarrassing for me to take up this kind of post.'
Public-sector colleagues reacted angrily to the private doctors' comments and accused them of running a public relations exercise in an effort to keep foreign doctors out of the city.
One senior professor of medicine said the private sector recruits were more trouble than they were worth.
'They should not be choosy about their duties,' the professor said. 'To me, their move is more about banning overseas doctors from working in Hong Kong and posing a threat to their careers.'
Another senior public doctor holds the same view. 'The Hospital Authority is trying to recruit younger staff [from overseas] who are not going to compete with local trainees but be more involved in less specialised but labour-intensive and time-consuming aspects of patient care.
'I cannot really see local private practitioners coming back into the Hospital Authority and rolling up their sleeves to do [such work].'
He poured scorn on concerns by private doctors about the competence of overseas recruits. 'I would be as concerned, if not more concerned, about the competence of some of the local private-sector specialists than the overseas ones,' he said.
Public hospitals saw 5.3 per cent of their doctors depart last year, up from 4.4 per cent in 2010. The figure is expected to increase further as more doctors reach retirement age.
The authority needs 200 new staff to cover the loss, with shortages most acute in anaesthesia and oncology departments, as well as accident and emergency. Only nine overseas doctors have been hired so far.
A Hospital Authority spokesman said it needed to carefully assess applications from private doctors.
'It is hard to [match applicants to work] and it takes time,' he said.