Health watchdog reform bill: Hong Kong patients’ groups and lawmakers ask doctors to quit stall tactics as quorum bell keeps ringing

Sector continues to oppose proposal which it claims will allow government supporters to dominate Medical Council

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 3:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 11:10pm

A government proposal to reform the doctors’ watchdog has been delayed for another day after a lawmaker again resorted to stalling tactics.

Medical sector representative Dr Leung Ka-lau repeatedly made quorum calls in the Legislative Council chamber yesterday, even before the meeting resumed for a second reading on a proposal that aims to add four more lay people to the Medical Council.

But enough lawmakers were present to prevent an adjournment, as happened last week.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called Leung’s tactics “aggressive and irresponsible”. She said it affected other items on a busy Legco agenda, including a move to regulate private columbariums. The legislature’s four-year term will finish by the end of next week.

“[Lawmakers] should not use such aggressive tactics to stall progress of meetings, just because you are dissatisfied with one government proposal,” Lam said.

But Leung said the government should have shelved controversial parts of the proposal so that other items would not be affected. He said it “may not be a bad thing” if the bill was postponed for another term as it was rushed and there had been a lack of consultation.

“It would not take the government too long to push forward the bill again in the next term,” Leung said.

The proposal involves increasing the number of lay people on the council from four to eight, expanding the council from 28 to 32 members. But several doctors’ groups – which staged a sit-in protest outside Legco joined by around 50 people – said the government had rushed the reform bill and neglected their appeal to keep the ratio of appointed to elected members even.

While they supported reform, they said the proposal would allow government supporters to dominate the Medical Council, damaging the sector’s professional independence.

Several patient representatives joined the rally to support the doctors and said they were doubtful about the government plan.

The Medical Association’s Dr Choi Kin, who is also a member of the council, said the proposal would not speed up waiting times for hearings into complaints – from 58 weeks to 30 weeks – as suggested by the government.

“This was a lie,” Choi said. “If the bill was approved, I would be reporting to the public every six months on whether or not the reform could really cut short the waiting time.”

Dr Alvin Chan Yee-shing said doctors had lost faith with officials and accused the government of trying to stir up trouble by shaming the medical sector.

But Patients’ Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong believed the proposal would be a step towards improving transparency of the council.

Given that last week’s meeting was suspended with one lawmaker short, Pang met pan-democrats to urge them to stay inside the chamber. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen also urged her camp to prevent another adjournment.

Still, the meeting was frequently disrupted by quorum bells, with lawmakers from both camps walking out immediately after a quorum was met, returning only when another bell rang.

Only a handful remained inside the chamber all morning for the question session, followed by debate of the bill. The meeting will continue this morning.