Carry on doctor: Hong Kong scheme to keep medical staff on the job after retirement age step in right direction

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 October, 2015, 2:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 October, 2015, 5:09pm

The Hospital Authority has narrowly averted a manpower crisis with specialist doctors by raising their retirement age from 60 to 65. Under a special scheme that costs an extra HK$570 million, about 60 out of 100 doctors who are about to retire this year will continue their service. This is to follow other government departments that are also raising the retirement age. The doctors are among 2,500 Hospital Authority staff due to retire in the next two years. These also include 344 nurses and large numbers of other medical staff and support workers.

The new measure is a significant step in the right direction but will not work on its own. A permanent solution to manpower shortage will require a multi-pronged approach.

Having to serve 90 per cent of the city's patients with only 40 per cent of its doctors, our public hospitals are chronically understaffed. Besides doctors, experienced nurses and technicians are also in short supply. The annual turnover rate of nurses is 5 per cent, which is even higher than the 4.2 per cent for doctors.

Similar to doctors, a plan is under way to enable such experienced medical personnel to work beyond the age of 60.

Along with raising the retirement age for medical personnel, more sweeteners may be needed to entice more experienced doctors and nurses to stay on.

At the moment, those who decide to stay are doing so because they love their jobs and want to help patients; most of them can retire comfortably or earn more money by switching to private practice, which does not have the same retirement-age requirement. Because they are the repository of experience, knowledge and institutional memory, creative ways need to be developed for such doctors and nurses to pass on their special skill sets and talents to new medical staff. That will make it more rewarding for both mentors and trainees.

Meanwhile, the city needs to train more doctors and further loosen restrictions on outside doctors who want to work in Hong Kong.