In view of the long-standing shortage of doctors in Hong Kong, the government has proposed amending the regulations to open a pathway for non-locally trained Hong Kong doctors registered overseas to return and practice in Hong Kong without having to sit an examination. The protectionism of the medical profession has long been a stumbling block to solving the shortage of local doctors. The amendment of the regulations to allow the return of non-locally trained doctors to Hong Kong has been discussed in society for years, but no progress has been made. The amendment will break the wall of protectionism, but it remains to be seen what specific results it will achieve. If necessary, the authorities should further remove the unreasonable thresholds and barriers established by the medical profession.
While Hong Kong's population is ageing, the number of doctors in Hong Kong has failed to keep up with the needs of society. The waiting time for emergency services in public hospitals easily reaches several hours, while the average waiting time for a specialist is two years. As the training capacity of local medical schools is limited, the introduction of more qualified doctors registered overseas has been discussed by various parties countless times over the years. However, despite the passage of much time, significant progress has not been made due to vested interests and political resistance.
Over the years, whenever the relaxation of restrictions on non-locally trained doctors practising in Hong Kong was proposed, the medical profession would invariably go all-out to peddle the myth of the ''influx of quack doctors'' to protect their own interests. In the government's proposed amendment, the scope of qualified and non-locally trained doctors will be limited to those who are originally from Hong Kong. If the medical profession continues to make excuses, it will be paying no regard to the long-term interests of society.
The amendment bill will be submitted to the Legislative Council for its first reading early next month. It is expected to be adopted within this legislative term. After the amendment, non-locally trained doctors originally from Hong Kong who graduated from recognised medical schools and have attained the status as specialists will be allowed to practise in public hospitals for five years, and will be eligible for full registration in Hong Kong without having to sit an examination if their performance is assessed as satisfactory. The government will establish a special registration committee under the Medical Council of Hong Kong (MCHK) tasked with compiling a list of recognised medical qualifications.
Over the years, the medical profession has engaged in rampant protectionism in the name of ''professional autonomy'', and various consultation and discussion mechanisms inside and outside the Legislative Council have become its vehicles for impeding reform. While the profession is unhappy about the amendment, it is believed that many people will hope that some people in the profession will be honest about whether what they did in the past was in the public interest.
There are myriads of rankings of medical schools around the world. They cannot be trusted fully, but they can serve as points of reference. If the medical schools on the list are widely recognised internationally, there is nothing wrong if top medical schools in mainland China are included.
The amendment bill stipulates that doctors returning to Hong Kong should practise in public healthcare institutions for five years before they are qualified for full registration without having to sit an examination in Hong Kong. The relevant arrangements will help ease the shortage of doctors in public hospitals without affecting the private market in the short term. Given the urgent need of medical staff in public and private medical services, the introduction of more non-locally trained doctors is unlikely to affect the interests of local doctors. Some people in the profession have poured cold water on the amendment, arguing that it will attract around a hundred doctors back into Hong Kong at best. If so, the government should consider imitating measures adopted in places like Singapore and further expand the scheme of attracting qualified doctors overseas.