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Wednesday, June 29, 2016, 18:18

Lack of a quorum delays reform of medical watchdog

By Luis Liu

HONG KONG - The Legislative Council meeting on the government's proposed reform of Hong Kong's medical watchdog was adjourned due to the lack of a quorum on Wednesday.

The bill aims to add four appointed lay members to the Medical Council of Hong Kong in order to speed up investigations on medical malpractice.

Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man voiced his disappointment and concerns that the bill could not get voted within this legislative term.

He reiterated his hope for the medical sector and some “pan-democratic” lawmakers anxious about the bill to understand the public's concerns and to adopt a rational approach.

The bill has been facing persistent opposition from the medical sector. Various doctor's associations staged a sit-in outside the LegCo Complex on Wednesday. They fear it could give the government full control of the watchdog and result in a more relaxed licensing threshold for overseas doctors.

Medical sector lawmaker Leung Ka-lau launched all seven quorum calls and moved a motion to adjourn the debate. He said this was to ensure more time for the government to reconsider the medical sector's concerns.

Although Ko is still confident of the bill being passed, he noted that some political parties had changed their minds and vowed to vote against the bill instead. He appealed to LegCo members not to politicize the issue.

The Democratic Party previously pledged to support the bill. However, the party has backtracked on its position, saying if the amendment proposal by lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is a doctor, cannot be accepted by the government, they will consider either casting a vote of abstention or staging a walkout, according to lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan.

He said the party would not vote against the government’s proposal as it still supported the bill’s objective.

Kwok proposed to make four existing appointed doctor positions elected seats to offset the four appointed members.

In the government's proposal, it pledged to switch two appointed seats nominated by the Academy of Medicine to directly elected ones. This would even the ratio of appointed members to elected ones.

Currently, there are 28 members sitting on the council. Half of them are elected by the industry itself, while 10 more doctors and four lay members are appointed by the government.

Both the Civic Party and Labour Party have said they would vote against the bill in its current form.

Ko further explained that among the four representatives, three will be elected by their respective patients' associations before they get appointed. “Apparently the government cannot control the representatives,” Ko said.

He added that 10 out of 14 previously appointed members in the Medical Council have followed the same rule. The move was to address ordinary people’s concerns, Ko reiterated.

Patients voiced strong support for the government's move. Hong Kong Alliance of Patients' Organizations said the move could balance the public interests.

The alliance said it hoped the lawmakers can put themselves in the patients' shoes when voting for the bill.

By getting the bill passed, the government planned to reduce the average waiting time for a hearing of a medical complaint from 58 months to 24 months.

Chairman of the Bills Committee on Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 Vincent Fang Kang said the current amendments had nothing to do with the threshold of doctors’ registration.

He hoped opposition lawmakers can forsake their "anti-Chief Executive" attitude and resume rational discussions.

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