All parties must ensure reform of the Medical Council does not fail again

The latest effort, like those before it, met opposition from the sector itself, yet blocking the bill has left everyone a loser

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 12:44am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 12:44am

When the long-awaited blueprint for a revamp of the Medical Council was put to a vote earlier this month, the public expected members of the Legislative Council to approve it expeditiously. Regrettably, it became a victim of doctors’ self-interest and political wrangling. As the proceedings dragged on for weeks, the bill finally lapsed and wiped out years of efforts to put in place better safeguards for patients’ rights.

By fighting proposals that would have enhanced the participation of lay people in the handling of patients’ complaints, our doctors have alienated themselves from the public. It was a bitter victory at the expense of public trust and professional image. Equally scathed was the government, which had done a bad job in dispelling the conspiracy theory in relation to the chief executive’s power of appointment to the council in charge of doctors’ registration and discipline. This gave lawmakers more excuses to thwart the bill despite strong public support for it.

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This sorry state of affairs has reinforced perceptions of dysfunctional governance. The real losers, however, are the patients. The bid to set up a more credible watchdog was not the first such attempt. Previous proposals were never put in place because of strong resistance from within the medical sector. The latest failure means patients will have to wait much longer before changes can be made. The lose-lose situation is in no one’s interest. It was a battle without winners.

With less than a year left in his current term, health minister Dr Ko Wing-man has already hinted that a more comprehensive revamp of the Medical Council may take longer to complete. The options include the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism for patients. The issues involved are complex. But the delay may be worthwhile if patients are rewarded with better safeguards. The parties concerned, including doctors, officials, patient groups and lawmakers, should strive to hammer out arrangements acceptable to all as soon as possible.