Healthcare groups call on Health Department for regulations

Practitioners such as speech therapists call for controls so public can make informed choices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 6:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 6:21am

Sixteen health-care professional groups have backed the Ombudsman's call for the Health Department to establish statutory controls over their trades, so the public can make informed choices when seeking services.

There are more than 7,300 practitioners engaged in 15 health-care sectors who are not subject to statutory regulations, but are disciplined by associations or societies that have maintained membership registers, says the Health Department's 2009 manpower survey.

But the societies say they can do very little to regulate their trades without statutory controls as many of them are run on a voluntary basis.

"Our society has about 90 members, but only one-third of them are practising. However, we estimate more than 110 audiologists are working in the trade," June Fok Hiu-ching, internal affairs co-ordinator of the Hong Kong Society of Audiology said.

Audiologists determine whether someone is suffering hearing loss and will provide recommendations, such as using hearing aids, cochlear implants or even surgery.

"Unqualified audiologists may offer the wrong advice to patients, who may suffer permanent hearing damage," Fok said.

Lorinda Kwan Chen Li-ying, of the Hong Kong Association of Speech Therapists, said her group had established an enrolment system and published a list of qualified members.

But she said: "We cannot entirely control the trade ourselves. There may be some practitioners who are not on our list, but who still claim to be well-qualified."

Kwan said the society had received complaints from patients about unqualified people practising, but without statutory controls in place it could do little to punish them.

According to an Ombudsman's report last month, the Department of Health does not compile statistics on complaints about malpractice from unregulated health-care practitioners.

Signing a joint petition yesterday, the societies said they hoped their practitioners could be regulated under Chapter 395 of the Supplementary Medical Professions Ordinance, which monitors professionals like physiotherapists and optometrists.

A Food and Health Bureau spokesman said it would refer to international standards to adopt a risk-based approach in considering the introduction of a statutory registration system for health-care professionals.

"At present they [health-care professionals] have to follow various enacted laws aiming to protect public health, otherwise they may face legal sanctions," he said. "As the bureau is undergoing a medical manpower planning and professional development strategy review, we will take this opportunity to reconsider whether or not to introduce statutory controls to regulate health-care professionals."