The public should be concerned about the failure of the medical profession's watchdog to act on kickbacks that doctors take for patient referrals, says a surgeon who blew the whistle on the arrangement five years ago. Dr Darren Mann said yesterday it was 'regrettable' there had been no real progress in the handling of the complaint over the payments that he submitted to the Medical Council in 2005. 'The Medical Council's failure to exercise its power and duty to investigate due to lack of resources should be a source of concern to the public whom it has a responsibility to protect,' Mann said. Kickbacks were still prevalent among private practices, the South China Morning Post yesterday reported several doctors as saying. They revealed how they had been offered between 5 per cent and 25 per cent of the specialists' fees by referring patients to them. Council chairwoman Professor Felice Lieh Mak said the watchdog had no resources to investigate the allegations and had to rely on the Independent Commission Against Corruption to act on such 'invisible crime'. In October 2006, Mann won a court order to have his complaint over kickbacks reinvestigated by the Medical Council, which had rejected his complaint the previous year. No disciplinary hearing has been held over the case. In his judicial review application in 2006, Mann said he was approached by the ICAC in 2003 in relation to alleged corrupt practices among private doctors. He agreed to assist the investigators, who taped his conservation with the doctors. The investigation resulted in a number of raids, but the Department of Justice determined there was not enough evidence to lay any charges. Declining to comment on individual cases, the chairman of the Medical Council's preliminary investigation committee, Professor Joseph Lau Wan-yee, said most of the public complaints against doctors could be processed within one year. The committee is responsible for investigating the complaints to decide whether there is enough evidence to call for a disciplinary hearing on a doctor. It will keep the council informed of any case that takes more than one year. 'The major reason for a delay is the complicated legal proceedings involved,' Lau said. About three to four cases being investigated have taken more than three years. 'Those cases are exceptions but, again, I cannot comment on any individual case. We are improving the system to speed up the investigation,' Lau said. Dismissal of a complaint requires endorsement from all committee members, including the chairman, the vice-chairman and a layman member. Dr Choi Kin, a former president of the Hong Kong Medical Association and a Medical Council member, said the council was powerless because it had no resources to investigate kickbacks. Dr Walton Li Wai-tat, the superintendent of the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, said the hospital kept an eye on referrals made by its contracted doctors. These doctors are told to refer patients to an approved list of specialists with proven qualifications. The hospital would check if there were any abnormal referrals, Li said. A spokesman for the Consumer Council said it was unethical for doctors to receive kickbacks for patient referrals, which would compromise patients' interests.