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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong health minister rejects calls for more elected members on city’s doctors watchdog

Dr Ko Wing-man says an increase in the ratio of elected seats to appointed members would not make the disciplinary board more transparent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 10:45am

Hong Kong’s health minister has rejected calls to increase the number of elected members on the city’s doctors watchdog, saying it would not increase transparency.

The body, which licenses and disciplines medical practitioners in Hong Kong, has become a target of criticism from those who label it a “closed shop” subject to little oversight, with half of its members appointed by the government.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man was speaking in the legislature on Monday in response to a proposal to revamp the Medical Council by adding four additional lay people to the board.

Two positions on the body currently appointed by the government would become elected seats under the plan. Both the posts are filled by representatives of the city’s specialists training body, the Academy of Medicine. Voting for the seats would take place among academy members.

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Under the plan, the council would be expanded from 28 to 32 members, with two thirds, or 20 members, to be chosen through elections among doctors, the specialist training school, patients’ groups and consumer representatives.

But Ko rejected demands from some doctors’ groups for more elected members on the council and for two seats filled by the academy to be open to a vote among all doctors in the city.

“It would go against the purpose of increasing the transparency of the watchdog,” Ko told a Legislative Council committee.

He also said the government would not interfere with how the academy elects its representatives, as the school should have the autonomy to decide the arrangements.

The plan is the second proposal put forward in recent months in an effort to boost the accountability of the body, after a previous reform bid failed to win support from legislators last year.

Hong Kong’s lawmaker for the medical sector, Dr Pierre Chan, and legislator Dr Kwok Ka-ki said the government had failed to learn any lessons from the defeat of the last reform effort, and had made too few changes in putting together the latest proposal.

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But Ko said: “The government has already given up the power to appoint four patients and consumer representatives, in order to address doctors’ concerns over the ratio of elected to appointed members.”

The ratio was at the centre of the debate last year, with the profession expressing worries that too many government appointees would undermine the autonomy of the watchdog.

Doctors also worried that the government would allow substandard overseas or mainland doctors to practise in Hong Kong if the council were dominated by supporters of the administration.

The current reform plan would relax requirements for overseas doctors seeking to work in public hospitals, with contract terms to be changed from one to three years.

Ko said he hoped relaxing the rules would attract more foreign talent to ease the burden at understaffed public hospitals, but he stressed that these contracts would not allow them to practise outside the public sector.

The government will table the new reform bill on June 2, followed by a first and second reading for lawmakers in Legco.