Health officials have been talking with the Academy of Medicine about long-term plans to train enough specialists to keep the health-care system stable. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said a number of senior specialist doctors had left the public sphere in the past three years, partly due to the authority's early retirement plan. Dr Chow said the government had no plans to invite mainland doctors to fill vacancies because of their different training. 'What we need to do is to map out the demand for different specialties, such as specialists in heart or renal diseases,' he said. 'We hope to see a clear plan to make sure there will be enough manpower to meet the demands of people. A clear picture would also help develop a clear career path for doctors.' Hospital Authority chief executive William Ho Shiu-wei said many top specialists had left the authority following the Sars outbreak. Dr Ho also warned of a severe imbalance between the public and private sectors. The large budget deficit and the loss of public-sector doctors had resulted in a longer waiting time for patients, he said. Last month, the cash-strapped authority announced its proposed standard drug list, under which patients may have to pay the full fee for 69 drugs not covered by charity funds. Among them are 26 cancer drugs, mainly for terminal cases. The remaining 43 include drugs normally used for improving quality of life and general health, such as nicotine patches, impotence drugs and slimming pills, and those for which cheaper drugs can be substituted with similar results. A total of 1,273 drugs will continue to be heavily subsidised, Dr Ho said it was important to maintain the stability of the authority's plans and policies despite the widespread rumours about the future of the ministerial system. 'Our co-operation with Dr Chow is very good, and things have been going on smoothly,' he said.