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On reform of the Medical Council, doctors score a pyrrhic victory

The filibustering to block government bill has worked for now but when the new legislative term begins, medics may find an even more bitter pill

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 12:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 12:37am

By killing the government’s Medical Council reform bill, lawmaker Leung Ka-lau has emerged as the biggest winner. Whether his filibustering campaign has served the public interest or even that of doctors in the long run is a different question.

Leung, who represents doctors in the legislature, did it almost single-handedly when up to about a month ago the bill looked to be in safe passage. He is now a hero among doctors and looks like a shoo-in if he runs for the same seat in September’s Legislative Council elections.

It is also a singular triumph for vested interests within the medical sector – doctors who want the disciplinary body to remain an old boys’ network. At this, several doctors’ groups including the Medical Association have successfully launched a disinformation campaign that has proved to be far more effective than the simple expressions of support by the city’s two medical schools and the Academy of Medicine, along with the leading patients’ rights groups.

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While Leung stalled the bill for weeks within the Legco chamber, the association and its partners were able to mobilise doctors and convince more and more of them with scare tactics.

It claimed the reform would not shorten the waiting time for complaint hearings; would invite unqualified mainland and overseas doctors to practise in Hong Kong; and provide a back door for the government to influence the council.

It may be that the waiting time wouldn’t be reduced to 30 months from the current, ridiculous 58 months as the government claimed, but there should no doubt be a significant reduction.

The other claims are simply groundless, so voiced because of the current political climate. Given the widespread public sentiment against Leung Chun-ying, you only need to tie any reform effort, however tenuously, to the chief executive to discredit it. That’s exactly what the doctors, with the help of several pan-democratic groups such as the Civic Party, have done.

But the reform bill will be revived in October. It should not be the same bill but an even tougher one. Doctors motivated by hubris and self-interest should see the writing on the wall. Unless public trust and credibility is restored to the council, there will come a day when it will be replaced completely by an independent body. Already, officials have hinted at that with the new bill.