Drop the objections to hiring foreign doctors
There are not enough doctors serving in public hospitals, a situation made worse by the reluctance to allow foreign-trained medics to work in the city
The government spent about HK$6 billion building new hospitals at Tin Shui Wai and North Lantau to meet a growing demand for health services. But the public is being short-changed, because a citywide shortage of doctors is preventing the new hospitals from expanding to full capacity and forcing them to limit emergency services.
Such a mismatch of public investment and social return cannot be right. But it may be unavoidable so long as the medical profession opposes the relaxation of rules inhibiting recruitment of foreign doctors to ease the local shortage.
A record number of doctors quit public hospitals last year, many to join the lucrative private sector, leaving the system 250 doctors short. The best the Hospital Authority can offer foreign-trained doctors is a one-year contract, subject to qualifying terms seen as tough. Unsurprisingly, it has attracted only about a dozen doctors. Alternatives, such as part-time employment of private doctors and retired doctors, have also had limited success.
The Hong Kong Medical Association cites the need to maintain high standards for its tough stance on foreign-trained doctors, which does not reflect the experience with overseas talent of other places with high health care standards.
A shortage of doctors certainly does nothing to maintain high standards. Apart from long queues and waiting times in an overloaded public system, we are reminded of that by the case of surgeon Dr Kelvin Ng Kwok-chai, who was contracted part-time at Queen Mary Hospital because of a shortage of doctors.
Ng has acknowledged that an investigative panel had found his conduct unacceptable after he absented himself for three hours from a liver transplant he was supervising at Queen Mary Hospital to perform a scheduled procedure at a private hospital. Colleagues point out he tried to do his best by both patients.
Hopefully, the government will succeed in its efforts to have the one-year term limit for foreign-trained doctors extended. This may not be an ideal or permanent solution. But with patients’ interests in mind, the profession should help by coming up with a more positive approach to its objective of maintaining high standards.