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Tuesday, July 5, 2016, 00:58

LegCo to resume second reading of Medical Bill

By Joseph Li

HONG KONG — The Legislative Council will resume the second reading of the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 on Wednesday – after an aborted meeting last week triggered by opposition lawmakers.

The bill proposes changing the composition of the Medical Council of Hong Kong by adding four lay members.

In a last ditch attempt, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said on Monday he would meet legislators from  across the political divide today (Tuesday).

He said he hopes pro-establishment lawmakers, who support the bill, will ensure a smooth meeting, and he wants there to be minimal interruptions from filibusters or abuses of the quorum bell.

He also hopes “pan-democrat” lawmakers will change their minds and carry the bill in the best interests of society and patients.

Passage of the bill is crucial. There are only two Legislative Council meetings remaining in the current session which expires on July 16. The subsequent Private Columbaria Bill and Fire Services (Amendment) Bill could also be jeopardized if the opposition delays the medical amendment bill.

The crux of the amendment bill is to increase the number of Medical Council members from 28 to 32. Of the four new lay members, three will be elected from patient groups. Two existing members are appointed by the Chief Executive after nomination by Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. But the bill proposes that they will instead be elected by the academy.

“There has long been majority support for the amendment in LegCo,” Ko told reporters on Monday. “But shortly before the meeting last Wednesday, there were unfounded fears and misunderstandings and this sparked serious political considerations among doctors, particularly frontline doctors.”

Ko might be referring to suggestions that acceptance of lay members to the Medical Council might allow the government to manipulate the council. There is also an unfounded fear that the amendment bill would cause an influx of unqualified doctors from the Chinese mainland and foreign countries.

Since the government has agreed at the Bills Committee stage to include representatives from patient groups to become members of the Medical Council and maintain the ratio of elected and appointed members, it will not accept further amendments from lawmakers.

“I hope they (lawmakers) will reconsider their position carefully in the interest of society, citizens and patient groups who hope to pass the bill to protect their rights and reform the Medical Council,” Ko said.

On Monday, patient groups strongly urged lawmakers to pass the bill. Yuen Siu-lam, chairman of Hong Kong Alliance of Patients’ Organizations, rebutted suggestions that inclusion of patient representatives would involve “vote planting” and manipulation by the government.

Pang Hung-cheong, a program officer of the Society for Community Organization, opposes increasing the number of medical members at the same time as lay members. This is because this will make the Medical Council more inclined to the sectorial interests of the doctors.

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