The shutdown of a training programme for nurses could threaten the quality of veterinary surgery in Hong Kong while a new law may open the floodgates to less qualified surgical assistants, an animal rights group warns.
Cheung Yuen-man, an officer from Animal Earth, said the closure of Polytechnic University's course would leave the city short of qualified veterinary nurses.
At the same time, she said pending changes to the city's Veterinary Surgeons Registration Ordinance would give more responsibilities to surgical assistants with little training.
Public consultation on the proposed amendment - which deals with the practice of hiring assistants whose only academic qualification is graduation from Form Five - ends today.
'After the amendment, you won't have to have proper training to become an assistant,' said Cheung, whose group was one of those consulted by lawmakers.
The proposed revision to the law would give those surgical assistants a larger role during operations, such as administering anaesthetics. Cheung warned that medical blunders could result from assigning complex tasks to relatively inexperienced assistants.
Polytechnic University's attempt to increase training opportunities ended this year when it was forced to shut down its self-funded nursing programme for lack of applicants. The course's high cost was one barrier to enrolment, said the course's designer, Dr Danny Gohel, assistant professor of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics.
The four-year course cost more than HK$325,000 and its graduates could expect to make salaries of only a few thousand dollars a month, according to Gohel.
The course, set up in 2009 in partnership with Britain's Royal Veterinary College, had to be self-funded because it failed to secure financing from the University Grants Committee (UGC). '[The UGC's] funding is very competitive,' Gohel said.
Thirty-six students enrolled for the course last year. Cheung said the government should not have refused funding for the courses if it was committed to improving vet services.
Meanwhile, City University, which offers a veterinary medicine programme, has also failed to secure UGC funding. Students have to pay HK$2 million in tuition fees for the six-year course.
A spokeswoman for the university said they were considering offering scholarships for the programme.
Jane Gray, senior veterinary surgeon of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said there was already a shortage of trained veterinary nurses. 'We hope there will be more programmes in future,' she said.
There are about 600 registered surgeons in Hong Kong and about 1,000 veterinary assistants, according to the government.
The estimated number of pet owners in Hong Kong as of 2010
- ity's pet food and supplies market was worth US$40 million in 2008