At last, there is a plan to reform Hong Kong's Medical Council

The addition of more members not in the profession would enhance confidence in the watchdog and doctors in general

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2016, 12:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2016, 12:00am

Fraught with red tape and vested interests, the Medical Council is like a patient in need of major surgery. Sadly, years have passed but the watchdog in charge of doctors’ professionalism has still to win the confidence of the public.

Finally, an operation is underway. Amid pressure from a Liberal Party lawmaker’s attempt to speed up the revamp with his own private member’s bill , the government plans to incorporate his proposals into a more comprehensive blueprint, which is scheduled to be tabled in the Legislative Council in the first quarter of this year. Hopefully, it can be passed before Legco’s current term ends in the summer.

READ MORE: Give us a bigger Medical Council to handle complaints, says Hong Kong doctor in wake of scathing court judgment

Belated as they are, the proposals to introduce more lay members and to enhance the council’s efficiency in handling complaints and disciplinary hearings are a step in the right direction. Currently, only four of the 28 council members are drawn from outside the profession, raising concerns that professional interest is put before patients’ rights. This can be reflected in a court ruling over a complaint against a paediatrician last October, with the judge hitting out at the watchdog’s protracted procedures and the lack of guidelines against conflict of interests when handling the cases.

In Hong Kong, self-regulation for professionals has, by and large, been working well. While professional autonomy has to be respected, it should not come at the expense of public interest. Although training for local doctors is among the world’s best, mistakes and misconduct do happen.

READ MORE: Elderly woman with respiratory disease accidentally given psychiatric medication in Hong Kong hospital blunder

But limited resources and bureaucracy mean sometimes it may take years for a valid complaint to be dealt with. In one extreme case, a showbiz couple spent nine years seeking redress for the death of their newborn. A revamp of the Medical Council has been long overdue. The addition of more members from outside the profession may not necessarily resolve all problems but it can enhance public perception and confidence in the industry. The legislature should give full support to the revamp.