Hong Kong doctors in public sector need better treatment

With the children’s hospital in Kai Tak due to open its doors later this year, the government has acknowledged a shortage of specialists and measures must be taken

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 10:49pm

You don’t need to be a doctor to find comments by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung about Hong Kong’s shortage of doctors amusing.

Speaking at a Hospital Authority event, the government’s No 2 said the city was short of doctors in general and the children’s hospital being built in Kai Tak needed more specialists too.

“We welcome any non-locally trained doctors to serve at this state-of-the-art hospital,” he said. “It will serve as a tertiary specialist hospital for the management of complex paediatric cases.”

But how can it be state-of-the-art when it doesn’t have the required specialist doctors?

No matter how advanced and new pieces of equipment are, presumably you need people who are qualified to operate them. Is that the real reason why the hospital is only opening in phases, starting from later this year? Well, parents, take note.

It’s not true that the city doesn’t have enough doctors. It’s the public hospital system that keeps losing specialists to the private sector. The government estimates the shortfall last year at 285 and is expected to reach 500 in two years and more than 1,000 in 12 years.

Hong Kong hopes foreign-trained doctors can help plug shortfall

It’s the public health sector these figures refer to. No one has ever said the city lacks private doctors. Why is that?

On the one hand, you have a largely unregulated private sector runs like an old boys’ club, whose members can practically charge patients whatever they please. On the other, you have overworked and underpaid public doctors.

The reason many put up with working under the Hospital Authority is because that’s the only way they can get specialist training. Is it any wonder once they get their qualification and work the required period under contract, they jump ship to start a lucrative private practice?

What about foreign doctors? They are made to jump through hoops, including an unrealistically tough exam. Once they are hired, they get at most a three-year, renewable contract and are paid

HK$61,060 to HK$89,460 per month, plus a 15 per cent end-of-contract gratuity.

Seriously, senior teachers, social workers and nurses – private sector nurses – make more than that.

Unless the government breaks up the old boys’ network in the private sector, pays more competitive salaries to public doctors, casts its net wider, and makes it easier for foreign doctors to work in Hong Kong, there is no solution to a problem of the government’s own making.