Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung urges medical students in Britain to come and work in the city

Government hopes foreign-trained doctors can help plug workforce shortfall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 10:26pm

Hong Kong’s No 2 official has urged medical students in the UK to consider coming to the city to work as doctors, citing among other things opportunities at the soon-to-open Children’s Hospital.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung’s speech in London on Wednesday, at an event organised by the Hospital Authority, came as Hong Kong grappled with a shortage of doctors. The government estimated the shortfall last year at 285. That was expected to widen to 500 in two years and surpass 1,000 in 12 years’ time.

Cheung, the chief secretary, said it was the government’s policy that locally trained staff should be the bedrock of the city’s health care workforce. Due to the manpower gap, the government has increased the annual intake at medical schools from 250 to 470 over the past decade and the authority raised the retirement age for doctors to 65.

“However, we still anticipate a significant manpower gap in the health care system in view of the fast-ageing population and the major expansion of our hospital capacity,” he said.

“We consider it necessary to recruit qualified, non-locally trained doctors.”

Cheung said the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital, near Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, set to open in phases from the fourth quarter of this year, presented “immediate” job opportunities.

“We welcome any non-locally trained doctors to serve at this state-of-the-art hospital. It will serve as a tertiary specialist hospital for the management of complex paediatric cases, working closely with the existing 13 paediatric departments in the [authority’s] hospitals,” he said.

There were also opportunities at the Department of Health, where the contract period for doctors has been extended to three years, with a starting salary from HK$61,060 (US$7,800) to HK$89,460 per month, plus a 15 per cent end-of-contract gratuity.

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The authority – which runs all of the city’s public hospitals – was recruiting doctors specialising in areas with serious shortages, such as anatomical pathology, cardiothoracic surgery and radiology, he said.

Cheung said non-locally trained doctors needed to pass the licensing exam or apply for limited registration.

Dr Gabriel Choi Kin, former president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said the difficulty with hiring non-local doctors was the language barrier.

“They probably will be working in areas where a language barrier does not exist such as anaesthesia, and pathology because if you go to the Children’s Hospital, then you have a communication problem,” Choi said. “You need to get an interpreter and sometimes even with an interpreter you may have difficulty in communicating with the child or the parent.”

The authority said 11 non-local doctors were working in anaesthesia, cardiothoracic surgery, emergency medicine, family medicine and internal medicine. The Medical Council has approved 39 limited registration applications from the authority, an authority spokesman added.

The authority has resorted to recruiting non-locally trained doctors under limited registration – a type of registration for overseas-trained doctors, which last three years, but is renewable – “as an interim measure to alleviate the heavy workload of frontline doctors”, he said.