Time for doctors to get on board with changes to Medical Council

Reforms are aimed at enhancing public participation and monitoring of the medical profession; introducing more lay members is just common sense

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 10:51pm

The controversial plan to revamp the watchdog overseeing the medical profession is back in the spotlight. But the prospect of a breakthrough remains distant, despite efforts by stakeholders to work out a consensus over the past year. We may again end up where we were last year – deadlocked. For years, the Medical Council has been seen by many as biased and inefficient in handling complaints against doctors’ misconduct. It receives more than 500 complaints a year and may take up to six years just to hold a hearing. But when an amendment bill was brought forward last year to shake up the composition of the council with more lay representatives, it was vehemently rejected by the medical sector and became a victim of political wrangling. The bill finally lapsed and is about to be reintroduced again.

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The concessions made by the government in the revised proposal are to be welcomed. The chief executive, instead of appointing half of the 28-member council, is to name 12 of 32 members in future. Under the revised proposal, the watchdog will still get four more lay members – three from patients’ groups and one from the Consumer Council – and they will not be appointed by the chief executive.

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Two appointed positions for representatives from the specialists’ training body, the Academy of Medicine, would become elected seats filled by academy members. This should ease concerns that the watchdog’s independence would be compromised by the chief executive’s power of appointment. It would seem reasonable for doctors to make more concessions, too. But regrettably, the Medical Association, the city’s main doctors’ body, still finds the proposed changes unacceptable. It argues that the two seats for the Academy of Medicine should be filled by direct election among doctors instead.

The industry may think it is important for doctors to maintain dominance in the watchdog. But it misses the point of the reform – to enhance public participation and monitoring of the medical profession. Doctor should avoid giving the impression that they put their own interests above patients’ rights. It is time they came to terms with this and allow the bill to be passed as early as possible.