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Not letting in docs borders on lunacy

Editorial | Mary Ma Jan 30, 2019
Former Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk's idea to restore a previous long-standing arrangement to automatically allow Commonwealth doctors to practice here without having to sit a local examination is nothing new to Hongkongers. That had always been the case before 1997. Many senior doctors in the territory were indeed trained in Britain or other Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor should accept the suggestion, and tell her health secretary, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, to work vigorously toward this end. It's the only practical solution to bail Hong Kong out of its nightmarish medical manpower shortage. It would be irresponsible for anyone in the administration to turn their back to the proposal. It's absolutely the time to let public health come before political correctness and the selfishness of protectionism - as evident among the local medical profession. I'm glad to hear some within the profession, such as the few in a group called Medecins Inspires, have been speaking up lately to put the need for overseas doctors on the table, as they know such doctors - especially those obtaining similar training in Commonwealth countries - can readily fill the gap. The uncertainty is whether the calls by Wu or Medecins Inspires can garner sufficient momentum to overcome the wall of protectionism that has prevented Hong Kong's young talents from returning to the city after receiving training in prestigious institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford, University College London, King's, etc. Lam's administration must step in firmly to back them if meaningful changes are to be made to cure the chronic problem. In face of public doctors and nurses' anger over manpower shortages, Lam is setting aside HK$500 million so that the Hospital Authority will have additional money to hire part-time doctors and nurses, or offer special allowances for overtime pay. The current situation is urgent due to the latest seasonal flu outbreak that has so far killed dozens and closed hundreds of kindergartens. What a feeling of deja vu! History is repeating itself again. Each time a major flu breaks out, hospitals are overcrowded with patients, followed by outcries from doctors and nurses, and extra government money to bridge the gap. But money alone is only a temporary quick fix. Hasn't the authority said while it's nice to have the extra HK$500 million, it indeed isn't short of money: the HK$500 million made available to cope with the last outbreak in 2018 hasn't been used up yet? The hurdle is there aren't enough doctors and nurses available for them to hire. Attempts to improve services by building new hospitals or adding hospital beds would be meaningless if the supply of doctors and nurses aren't increased quickly enough. Around the corner is the Lunar New Year festival. It's alarming to learn that only six private clinics will open on the first day of the festival. Private doctors should heed Chan's urging to keep their clinics open as far as possible to share the workload of their public-sector peers.


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