MAINLAND doctors could be practising in Hong Kong after 1997 without needing to pass a licentiate exam - if an amendment to the Medical Registration Ordinance is not tabled quickly. Legislator Dr Leong Che-hung issued the warning, saying he feared that if a proposed new system was not operating by 1997 then China might amend the existing system to suit mainland medics. China has said it will honour the Basic Law by allowing professions in Hong Kong - including the medical profession - to retain their own registration and licensing systems after the handover. Under the proposed system, all doctors from non-Hong Kong universities, including those from the mainland, will have to pass a licentiate exam in order to practise here. Currently, doctors from Britain and other Commonwealth countries are allowed to practise here without having to sit an exam, although the amendment would introduce a universal licensing examination. Dr Leong said the new system should be up and running by 1997. He said: 'If we don't have the universal licensing system in place by the handover we might find that the current exam exemption for Commonwealth countries is replaced by an exemption for China. 'I am not saying that the Chinese system and Chinese doctors are no good - simply that Hong Kong must retain its autonomy in this matter.' Before China clarified its intention to allow Hong Kong professions to maintain their autonomy after the handover, there were fears that medical standards in the territory would decline if mainland doctors could practise here without passing a licentiate exam. Dr Leong will this week write to the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Katherine Fok Lo Shiu-ching, to demand a date be set for tabling of the amended ordinance in the Legislative Council. 'If a date is not forthcoming I will have no choice but to table the amendment as a private member's bill because time is running very short now,' he said. The Health and Welfare department has said the amendment will come before Legco during the current session, although it already has been delayed several times. Dr Leong said: 'It is extremely important that Hong Kong has its own registration system for doctors after 1997 if we are to improve medical services here. 'If the amendment is passed through Legco at the end of the current session there will barely be enough time to implement the universal licensing system before the handover and so we need to act now.' The amended ordinance also would increase the power of the Medical Council, allowing it to deal more efficiently with the increasing number of complaints against doctors and introduce a specialist register. Dr Leong said that since neither China nor Britain had expressed opposition to a universal licensing system, there seemed no political reason for the delay. 'I don't believe the Hong Kong Government has been obstructive to the amended [ordinance] but it has been neglectful,' he said. 'It simply hasn't given the [ordinance] amendment the priority it deserves.'