Voice in Legco
Voice in Legco - Doctor Shortage Unlikely to Ease amid Social Idling

Normal deliberations on project grants, bills and policies have stalled. These predicaments cause harm to the interests of society as a whole, which is really lamentable as well as infuriating.


Recently, both inside and outside the LegCo have been worn out by the uproar over the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, with the LegCo building being blocked repeatedly, thus affecting the functioning of the LegCo. All of a sudden, protesters opposing the amendment bill escalated their efforts and violently attacked the LegCo building on July 1 when Hong Kong celebrated the anniversary of its return with the Motherland, causing massive historic damage to the building. We, the pro-establishment LegCo members, immediately condemned in the strongest terms all the violations and shameful atrocities committed by the thugs of that day. Regrettably, the uproar had not yet subsided at the time of writing this article. The LegCo was unable to hold any meeting due to the severe damage to the building, which made it imperative to adjourn the current legislative year early, thus stalling the normal deliberations on project grants, bills and policies. It is both lamentable and infuriating to see these predicaments causing harm to society as a whole.


Among the people’s livelihood and economic matters that have been delayed, besides the upcoming annual tax concessions, the public housing development plan at Wang Chau in Yuen Long and “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” that are of great concern to society, there are also many important policy issues that cannot be neglected: a case in point is the recruitment of foreign-trained doctors, which made the headlines of the newspapers but had repeatedly fallen off the LegCo’s agenda and postponed indefinitely.


People’s livelihood matters have been abandoned

Healthcare standards in Hong Kong are among the best in the world, but there are many problems in its healthcare system, including the dearth of hospitals and hospital beds, shortage of healthcare manpower, severe imbalance between public and private healthcare, and inability of healthcare services to keep pace with the needs of the aging population, which indisputably has caused “all kinds of diseases and ailments to break out” in society. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, the authorities are urgently developing primary healthcare services, speeding up preparations for the second 10-year hospital development plan, and making forward-looking plans for healthcare manpower. However, in order to achieve the desired results, the progress of each area must be properly coordinated and is indispensable. For example, preventive primary healthcare services must be developed as soon as possible to help reduce the need for hospitalization. Otherwise, the construction of hardware such as hospital beds and hospitals may not be fast enough no matter how quickly it is. Another example is that even if the authorities speed up the construction of hardware such as hospitals and hospital beds, it would be futile if software such as the supply of healthcare personnel fails to keep up. Therefore, we cannot afford to take any area lightly.


Important policies must not be neglected

Indeed, the acute shortage of doctors in Hong Kong has become a pressing livelihood issue. It is obvious to the public that the time spent on waiting for medical consultation in a public hospital is getting longer and longer, and even prolonging the illness or causing medical staff to frequently complain about being overworked. According to the 2017 Report of the Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development, Hong Kong will have a shortage of doctors of about 500 next year and about 1,007 by 2030. Hong Kong is also lagging far behind other advanced regions in terms of the ratio of doctors to inhabitants: currently, 1,000 Hong Kongers share 1.9 doctors, compared to 3.4 doctors in OECD countries and 2.9 doctors in neighbouring Singapore. A think tank estimated that Hong Kong will need at least 3,000 more doctors to catch up with Singapore. It should not be forgotten that with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area aiming to become a “Healthy Bay Area”, there will be more medical institutions and personnel from Hong Kong spreading their wings in the nine cities of the Pearl River Delta. The authorities need to take these factors into account when making manpower projections. In this regard, I have repeatedly raised questions and reminded the authorities through the LegCo. Training a specialist doctor often takes eight to ten years, so relying on locally trained doctors alone will not meet manpower needs. Therefore, amid an acute shortage of doctors, a rational choice is the appropriate introduction of non-locally trained doctors, which is also a usual international practice. But now there seems to be a strange phenomenon, i.e. it is difficult to discuss the need for foreign doctors because of accusations of wanting to weaken professional autonomy or divide the profession, though there is some support for this stance within the medical profession.


Foreign doctors urgently needed to ease doctor shortage

In April this year, the Medical Council discussed four proposals on exempting non-locally trained doctors from internship. It turned out that all four proposals were rejected, sparking off a public outcry, with public opinions almost unanimously agreeing that industry protectionism must not be allowed to override the overall interests of society. After several twists and turns, the Medical Council finally adopted a new proposal in May. Generally, a non-locally trained doctor may be exempted from a six-month internship and directly obtain an official doctor’s license if he or she has completed three years of service at a designated institution and passed the examination. On the surface, the matter has quietened down for now, but the problem is that even the medical profession has deduced that the new solution will only attract a few dozen overseas doctors annually, which is an utterly inadequate measure, showing that this hard-won solution is insignificant in the big picture. So, what should we do next? When is it possible to have sufficient doctors? Unfortunately, these questions still have no answer. What is certain, however, is that the public will pay a very heavy price if we continue to move at the current snail pace, so we must not turn a blind eye to Hong Kong’s current critical and pressing shortage of medical personnel.


In fact, various parties in the LegCo have closely followed up on this issue. Regardless of the solutions they proposed, the direction is to remove all unreasonable obstacles under the existing system to increase the number of foreign doctors in Hong Kong, which will also facilitate the return of Hong Kong’s non-locally trained doctors to practice medicine in Hong Kong. I hope that the LegCo can resume normal functioning as soon as possible. At least we should stop social idling and not allow political differences to affect major economic and people’s livelihood issues.

This is a free translation. For the exact meaning of the article, please refer to the Chinese version.

Should you have any comments on the article, please feel free to contact Mr Martin Liao.
Address : Rm 703, Legislative Council Complex, 1 Legislative Council Road, Central, Hong Kong Tel : 2576-7121
Fax : 2798-8802
Email: legco.office.liao@gmail.com