Medical blunders

Hong Kong lobbyist slams government plan to exempt small clinics from new regulatory framework

Government is proposing that framework to crack down on abuses should not apply to clinics employing five or fewer doctors, meaning 70 per cent could be exempted

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 8:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 10:39pm

Around 70 per cent of the city’s private clinics operating with five or fewer doctors might not be regulated under a new government proposal which aims to tighten supervision of private health care facilities, the Food and Health Bureau says.

The bureau is consulting the medical sector on allowing small clinics that do not perform high- risk procedures to be exempted from obtaining an operating licence issued by the health authorities, according to the latest proposal submitted to the Legislative Council on Monday.

Hong Kong government confident of passing bill to end abuses in private health sector

But a patients’ rights representative expressed concern over the exemption, fearing that patient safety would not be guaranteed.

“If [blunders] take place in clinics that are not regulated by the Department of Health, the patient can only file a complaint to the Medical Council. It could take years ... before a disciplinary hearing is held,” said Patients’ Voices vice-chairman Tsang Kin-ping.

The operation of health centres sparked widespread concern after a woman died and one was seriously injured during a liposuction procedure in a beauty salon two years ago. This put the government under pressure to crack down on unscrupulous health procedures.

The government also hopes to restore public confidence in the private health care sector, which has been criticised for overcharging, a lack of quality control and a reluctance to handle complaints and deal with medical blunders.

The new bill will be introduced to replace the current regulations that cover only private hospitals. Coverage will be extended to four types of private health facilities including clinics, day procedure centres and other health service establishments.

High-risk medical procedures will be restricted to licensed facilities.

A two-tier system will also be created to handle patients’ complaints against service providers.

All private facilities that are regulated under the licensing system could have their services suspended or licence cancelled if they commit offences.

Woman dies after receiving liposuction at hair treatment centre

The bill was now being drafted and would hopefully be introduced to the Legislative Council in the first half of this year, a source from the bureau said.

But further discussions would be required to decide whether small clinics should be exempted from the new regulations, he said, while the definition of a small clinic could be set at those employing three to five doctors.

“It was not our intention to regulate these small clinics that are of low risk to the public, as they usually treat flu and cough cases,” the source explained.

Patients could complain to the doctors’ watchdog, the Medical Council, over malpractice, as small clinics were closely managed by doctors who should be directly responsible for their operation, he said.

But Tsang, the patients’ representive, believed the lack of regulation of these clinics would not be able to guarantee patients’ rights in complaining about medical blunders.

“Most patients would not be able to tell whether a clinic is exempted,” he said.

Lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki said exemption should be granted in line with risk involved in medical procedures, rather than the number of doctors running a clinic.

According to a voluntary survey by the Department of Health, doctors and dentists are running around 6,000 private clinics. An estimated 70 per cent of them could potentially be eligible for exemption if they do not provide high-risk day care procedures.