Old rivals the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party put forward a rare united front yesterday with a joint plan to alleviate a chronic shortage of doctors at public hospitals.
The business-friendly Liberals, part of the Beijing-loyalist camp, held a joint press conference with the Democrats to propose changes to the health care system. An exodus of doctors to the more lucrative private sector has left public hospitals struggling to fill about 200 vacancies.
The suggestions include relaxing licensing requirements for doctors from overseas, bringing doctors out of retirement, raising the retirement age and referring patients awaiting treatment at busy hospitals to quieter ones.
The Liberals played down the significance of the show of co-operation, which has stoked talk of a deepening rift with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
"There is room for co-operation between the Liberal Party and other pan-democrats on some livelihood issues," party leader James Tien Pei-Chun said. "But of course there are some issues where conflicts remain."
He stressed that the party was not turning on the government, adding that he believed the Food and Health Bureau would accept good advice.
And Tien dismissed any suggestion the proposal was "retaliation" for Leung's failure to show up at the party's annual dinner in December. Leung's defeated rival Henry Tang Ying-yen has close links to the party, for which he served as a lawmaker.
Tien said Liberal leaders had been in talks with other parties for nine months, and the talks with the Democrats began four months ago - before the dinner.
Tien did hit out at Leung's information co-ordinator Andrew Fung Wai-kwong over a column accusing the Liberals of hindering government attempts to cool the property market due to Tien's ties to a property developer.
Tien said he had confirmed that Fung, a former Democratic Party councillor, wrote the February 10 Sing Tao article under the name "Kam Chung Yan", adding it was "full of fallacies". The government said Fung could not comment on "rumours".
The Democrats' Albert Ho Chun-yan said he was delighted with the plan to boost the number of doctors, adding: "I believe there are issues that could unite parties across the political spectrum." Tien and Ho plan to seek talks with health bureau officials.