Legislative Council Meeting Members’ Motions: Formulating a new mechanism for importing non-locally trained doctors

MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):

Deputy President, first of all, I would like to thank Mr Tommy CHEUNG for proposing the motion on “Formulating a new mechanism for importing non-locally trained doctors” today, so that Members have the opportunity to express their views on the shortcomings of the local healthcare system.

The shortage of doctors has been plaguing Hong Kong for years. The issue has been under discussion for a long time without any long-term solution. This year we are facing the onslaught of the novel coronavirus disease epidemic and the upcoming annual influenza peak season, we can say that Hong Kong is taking on the biggest challenge ever. At present, the healthcare systems in many major cities and countries are on the verge of collapse. Under these circumstances, it is high time to discuss how Hong Kong can import experienced and quality non-locally trained doctors so that the Government can make early plans and responses, having listened to Members’ views.

As mentioned by Mr Tommy CHEUNG in his opening speech, currently less than half (46%) of the doctors in Hong Kong work in the public healthcare system. Yet, the latter provides about 90% of inpatient services. For this reason, the Government has acknowledged the manpower shortage in public hospitals as a result of Hong Kong’s ageing population and the overloaded public healthcare system. However, the Food and Health Bureau (“FHB”) has stated repeatedly at different meetings that no target has been set for the ratio of healthcare professionals to the population. As a number of Members have mentioned in their speeches, the ratio of doctors per capita in Hong Kong lags behind that in other advanced cities in Asia. If a target is set, I believe a staggering number of additional doctors will be required, highlighting the long-term inaction of the Government and FHB on this issue.

In the Report of the Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development published by FHB in 2017, it was projected that there would be a shortfall of 1 000 doctors in Hong Kong by 2030. The actual demand will be even stronger if a projection is made again today. The public healthcare system has been experiencing a rapid brain drain, with the attrition rate reaching record highs in recent years. Every time I have visited a public hospital in recent years, I have the impression that the doctors are generally younger. I do not discriminate against them because of their age, but I feel that doctors with some experience will soon switch to the private healthcare system. Hence, I believe that serious problems will arise if the chronic shortage of doctors in public hospitals is left unaddressed. First, there will be the risk of medical accidents, and second, the waiting time for public healthcare services will increase.

Mr Wilson OR cited two examples of the longest waiting time for stable new case booking at specialist outpatient clinics in Kowloon East under the Hospital Authority (“HA”). The waiting time for ophthalmology specialist in Kowloon East was 174 weeks, for medicine specialist in Kowloon East was 145 weeks. Orthopaedics and traumatology specialist in Kowloon Central ranked third, with a waiting time of 137 weeks. Patients had to wait three years for consultation which lasts only a few minutes. The ultimate victim of the long waiting time is definitely the general public.

I understand that the Government has endeavoured to increase the number of local medical graduates in recent years. However, distant water really cannot put out a fire nearby. It takes 6 to 13 years to train a doctor. Even if all fresh graduates are absorbed by the healthcare system, I believe they are only sufficient to fill the vacancies arising from retired doctors, but are not enough to cope with the rapid growth in healthcare demand. Hence, I agree that the importation of overseas-trained doctors can immediately alleviate the manpower shortage and improve the quality of healthcare services. Moreover, the importation of experienced and quality overseas doctors can also diversify healthcare manpower and promote the exchange of medical experience.

However, the problem is that under the existing mechanism, the employment terms of doctors in Hong Kong are not attractive at all. The wages of specialists are not particularly high compared to those in other countries or cities, and the working conditions are not particularly good either. As a result, only 30 doctors have been employed by HA under limited registration and four by the Department of Health so far. The number of doctors retiring each year is also higher than this figure.

In the past, whenever the idea of relaxing the restrictions on overseas doctors to practise in Hong Kong was mentioned, there would definitely be strong opposition from doctors’ organizations. I hope the Government can show some courage this time and respond to them with facts and figures. For instance, the admission threshold for overseas specialists to practise in Singapore and Australia is lower than that in Hong Kong, yet the importation of overseas doctors has not caused problems to their local healthcare standard or affected the development opportunities of locally-trained doctors.

The Government should accept the recommendations made in the motion and formulate a new mechanism expeditiously for importing experienced and quality non-locally trained doctors. I hope the Government and the Medical Council of Hong Kong will adopt a more open attitude in reviewing and reforming the existing registration system for overseas doctors, so as to horoughly solve the manpower shortage in Hong Kong’s healthcare system and make it an even better one.

I absolutely support this motion. Deputy President, I so submit.