Hong Kong Medical Association did back registering non-local doctors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 January, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 January, 2018, 11:22pm

In his column (“Time to open the door to foreign doctors”, January 9), Alex Lo said the Hong Kong Medical Association (HKMA) was a “lobby” group, which is not the case. The HKMA is a professional organisation and its credo is to uphold public health.

We agree Hong Kong has had a doctor shortage for decades despite the government’s claim of a surplus in 2003. Then we had 1.7 doctors per 1,000 people, and now it is marginally better at 1.9. Corresponding figures are ­–­ Australia, four, Japan, 2.3, Singapore, 2.8, UK, 3.7 and US, 3.3.

In Hong Kong, about half of doctors are specialists. About half of them work in the Hospital Authority, which takes care of 90 per cent of all inpatients. Using the 1.9-1,000 ratio, that means 0.5 specialists in public hospitals take care of 1,000 patients. Therefore, it is no surprise these specialists’ working hours are long, as are the queues of patients. The corresponding figure for a private specialist is 4.5. This is the imbalance we face in Hong Kong.

Lo referred to the high turnover rate of Hospital Authority doctors. The authority has recruited non-local doctors via limited registration since 2011. The HKMA is accused of not supporting this registration scheme. In fact, it supported the government’s proposal to make the limited registration validity period three years instead of one. Since it was launched there have been 35 applications for registration, with one rejected. Only 12 remain in employment.

The authority has failed to retain local and non-local doctors. Outside the Hospital Authority another 98 academics or trainees work on limited registration in universities.

It is easy to blame the “all-too-high standard” of our licensing examination, but there is only one standard, which is set by the local medical schools to be on a par with the standard required of their students. So it is wrong to claim the HKMA deliberately makes exams difficult for overseas graduates. It does not have the authority to set exams. If some think the universities’ medical schools are giving licensee hopefuls a difficult time to protect their own privileges to train doctors, it is for them to answer such criticism.

The role of the HKMA is to speak on behalf of the medical profession to uphold the standards of doctors in order to safeguard public health.

Dr Lam Tzit-yuen, honorary secretary, Hong Kong Medical Association