Overseas doctors needed in Hong Kong to ease crisis, say UK experts
British experts warn Hospital Authority that restrictions on foreign recruitment should be relaxed quickly to lift threat to patient safety
Emily Tsang and Lo Wei
Curbs on hiring overseas doctors should be eased because of a staffing crisis that poses a threat to the safety of patients, the Hospital Authority was told yesterday.
A team of British experts urged the authority to liaise with the government and the Medical Council - the body that licences doctors - to quickly relax the restrictions.
The suggestion is among wide-ranging recommendations made in a report by a task force of experts at Britain's Teesside University and the National Health Service who were engaged to advise on the authority's clinical governance.
"Overwork and an over-congested environment have had an adverse impact on both patient safety and staff morale," the report said.
Any such relaxation would go well beyond the present limited-registration scheme under which a small number of overseas-qualified doctors have been hired.
The suggestion won support from a patient group, but a doctors' union objected, saying employing non-local medics should be the last resort.
Frontline Doctors' Union chairman Seamus Siu Yuk-leung said: "There are many things the authority can do before opening non-local employment."
The Hospital Authority said it would look into the recommendations and work out how to implement them.
Understaffing is a chronic problem in public hospitals, which employ only 40 per cent of doctors but care for up to 90 per cent of patients.
Hospitals are now short of 200 public doctors, with a turnover rate of 5.3 per cent last year.
The report also suggests extending the reporting of medical blunders to cover "near misses".
Chief manager for quality and standards Alexander Chiu said: "For instance, if medicine was mixed up but [the error] was discovered and corrected by the pharmacy, it should be reported to the hospital even though no harm was done to a patient."
He added: "We are not planning this to hold individuals responsible, but to offer the chance of learning from experience and preventing future mistakes."
But Siu said the practice might create extra paperwork for the already overloaded doctors, who could be using the time to treat patients.
The report also suggests that public hospitals display their waiting time for various specialities on the internet.
Chiu said the data in different departments across all seven hospital clusters was already being prepared.
"It will be announced and uploaded onto the internet," he confirmed.
The report said there was little evidence of how effectively the authority managed poorly performing doctors. It suggested this needed to be spelled out and embedded in policy.
It also said the authority should explore options to reduce demand and occupancy particularly for in-patients, such as setting appropriate lengths of stay.