Legco passes bill to bring in outside doctors

The Legislative Council on Thursday passed a bill that allows non-locally trained doctors to fully practise in Hong Kong without taking a local licensing exam, despite opposition from the medical sector.

Under the amendments, doctors with non-local medical qualifications can apply for full registration in Hong Kong upon working in public healthcare institutions in the SAR for at least five years after getting their specialist qualifications.

Following lawmakers’ calls, the government had expanded the plan, opening the door to non-permanent residents with specialist qualifications – including those from the mainland – to work in public hospitals under a special registration scheme.

These specialists can also apply for full registration after working in public institutions for five years or more.

A special registration committee will be set up to determine a list of at most 100 recognised medical schools around the world in about a year’s time, taking into account the curriculum, international rankings and other factors.

Speaking after the bill was passed, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said she hopes members of the special registration committee could be announced by the end of this month.

She added that officials will actively promote the scheme through Hong Kong’s trade offices around the world, and via the networks of Hospital Authority and Department of Health.

Medical sector lawmaker Pierre Chan said the changes hamper procedural justice and undermine professional autonomy for his profession, but conceded that it was not possible for him to block the bill “under the current political reality”.

“The interests of the patients and professional autonomy have been ignored. The requirement to pass a licensing examination is not exclusive to Hong Kong. Most doctors were against the idea not out of protectionism, but out of concern how Hong Kong’s healthcare standards can be maintained,” he said.

“Under the executive-led approach, the government launched this legislative exercise. They did not chase the root of the problem and they are jeopardising the effective examination system. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it can be destroyed quickly,” he said.

But other lawmakers accused doctors of trying to safeguard only their own interests, saying the government’s plan can tackle the city’s doctor shortage.

Some, like Liberal Party’s Tommy Cheung, were more worried that not enough doctors will be attracted by the scheme.

“With all these restrictions and we are limiting to 100 more or less universities in the world… I am worried the numbers won’t be great. But still, I welcome the fact that we now have a bill to allow them to come,” he said.

He rejected suggestions that doctors would be reluctant to come and work in Hong Kong due to a poor working environment in public hospitals.

“I don’t think Hong Kong hospitals are any worse than any hospitals in the world. The long working hours in public hospitals will ease off if we have an influx of foreign-trained doctors,” he said.

During the last Legco term, filibustering had thwarted the passage of a bill to reform the Medical Council, a change the medical sector said would pave the way to bring in non-locally trained doctors.