Doctors can't just look after their own
A scheme by private doctors to alleviate a shortage of 200 medics in public hospitals and head off the employment of foreign-trained doctors has been a disappointment. Medical Association president Dr Choi Kin blames the Hospital Authority for a lack of flexibility. But doctors themselves have been accused of inflexibility in turning down duties that fail to meet their expectations or suit their convenience. Only 30 private doctors have taken up assigned duties, with 100 still awaiting a response, an authority source says.
As a result, Choi has branded the scheme a failure. That is not entirely surprising, given the lack of an interface between the public and private medical sectors. It cannot be a simple matter to integrate private doctors, available only part-time, with a self-contained public system. That is reflected in the reasons given for declining some offers. A specialist with a clinic in Central turned down an offer from Sha Tin Hospital 'because it is not cost-effective for any doctor to spend hours in traffic'. Another in Kowloon turned down an offer from Tuen Mun Hospital because of travel time, and added: 'I have not been seeing patients with flu and coughs so it is quite embarrassing for me to take up this post.' Unfortunately, some of the most serious shortages are to be found in the New Territories, where they have been linked to a higher incidence of medical blunders.
The private doctors' offer was worthwhile. Despite Choi's damning assessment, the authority should continue trying to place them. But the outcome has reinforced the case for contracting foreign-trained doctors without requiring them to take local examinations, until our medical schools can turn out more graduates. Doctors' professional bodies and groups have a legitimate role to play in upholding high standards of medical practice in Hong Kong. But they must strike a balance between that and being seen to run a closed shop to safeguard their own interests. Private doctors, after all, are staunch advocates of free enterprise and choice.