Motion on “Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2021” (2021.10.21)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): President, I speak in support of the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2021 (“the Bill”). Although there is the problem of long waiting time with the public healthcare system of Hong Kong, patients in case of acute or serious illnesses can all receive proper treatment immediately and the cost is even low. Nevertheless, Hong Kong citizens always find it indescribably painful when they want to see a doctor, because patients except those categorized as acute or serious will all be put in a very long queue. While one to two years’ of waiting for new cases at specialist outpatient clinics is already a common occurrence; hours of waiting in accident and emergency departments is not uncommon, either. There are many reasons behind the long queue for Hong Kong people waiting to see a doctor, with one of the major causes being the shortage of doctors.

The doctor shortage problem has plagued Hong Kong for many years. At present, it is anticipated that there will be a shortfall of nearly 2 000 doctors by 2040. The sector believes that the actual situation will be even worse. The Legislative Council has discussed the issue for many times, yet remains clueless about it. However, I am not going into the details again. Now, the Government puts on a new atmosphere of governance and proposes to amend the Medical Registration Ordinance. It not only seeks to admit overseas doctors to solve the doctor shortage problem, but has even resolutely proposed new amendments lately to further allow overseas doctors who are not Hong Kong permanent residents (“HKPRs”) to come and work here. Previously, the Government dared not propose the admission of overseas doctors in the face of the opposition camp’s crazed filibustering; now it not only dares to do so, but also dares to get it done to sew up the sore for the people. This is definitely a blessing for Hong Kong. I fully support it.

The Government has proposed three latest amendments: first, allowing non-HKPR doctors holding recognized medical and specialist qualifications to apply for coming to Hong Kong; second, providing measures for limited registration doctors holding specialist qualifications to bridge to full registration; third, allowing non-locally trained medical graduates who have not undergo internship outside Hong Kong to come and take the Licensing Examination in Hong Kong. In the Government’s original bill, the first one was meant to provide for HKPR doctors to apply only. However, most Members and patient groups opined that confining the application to only HKPRs made the scope too narrow and thus difficult to attract overseas doctors to Hong Kong. Having considered that specialist doctors are whom the Hospital Authority (“HA”) currently lacks most, the Government thus makes the relevant amendments.

However, the Government’s amendments have aroused grievances in the medical sector. According to the survey conducted by Dr Pierre CHAN of the medical sector, 80% of doctors oppose the amendments. Their major rationale is that the amendments will ruin the present approval and examination regimes, and eventually the expectation on doctors will emphasize on quantity rather than quality. The Hong Kong Academy of Medicine (“HKAM”) even describes the Government’s decision as taking away the sector’s reassurance. The medical sector’s argument is in fact hardly convincing. I think the general public will not agree to it either, because the medical sector gives people an impression that they are overly shielding themselves without any consideration to patients’ welfare. This is indeed disappointing.

As a matter of fact, the Government has repeatedly explained that the admission of overseas doctors is not meant to “snatching rice bowls” of local doctors, and it has guaranteed that it will keep a close watch on the situation. HKAM will continue to be the gatekeeper. While the requirement on the quality of doctors will not be lowered, a tripartite platform will be set up amongst HA, the Department of Health and HKAM to look into relevant specialist training, so as to ensure the quality of overseas doctors. Most importantly, these overseas doctors have to work in Hong Kong’s public healthcare institutions for at least five years, thus there will be ample time to observe their quality and professionalism. If they are not up to our standard, they cannot simply stay. Since a very high threshold is set, we need not worry about their quality at all.

I am convinced that if the medical sector really worries about the quality of overseas doctors, it should then offer support to HKAM and HA in carrying out proper supervision and helping these overseas doctors integrate into Hong Kong’s community, rather than opposing blindly to let patients continue to suffer in long queues. In fact, the admission of overseas doctors will also be beneficial to doctors of public hospitals, for it can reduce the latter’s present super long working hours. A survey indicates that over 70% responding young doctors were overexerted at work and over 20% of them even had depression. Therefore, opposing the admission of overseas doctors is not fair to frontline doctors―particularly the young ones―as well.

The current legislative amendment can increase the supply of doctors, but Hong Kong’s healthcare problems still cannot be utterly remedied if the root issues are not solved. Actually, many members of the medical sectors also pointed out that HA has to bear the greatest responsibility for the various healthcare problems today. HA has already become a mega white tower, a huge bureaucratic structure. While its administrative structure keeps swelling up, its administration turns more and more chaotic instead. As a result, the Government puts in more resources; yet on the contrary, the phenomenon of resource mismatch with ineffective manpower allocation appears, thus causing the declining morale and increasing work pressure amongst healthcare staff. Therefore, in order to bring a permanent cure to Hong Kong’s healthcare problems, the Government must thoroughly improve the management of the public healthcare system apart from opening up for overseas doctors.

Thank you, President.

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