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Tuesday, July 12, 2016, 01:20

Senior doctor says medical bill should be passed

By Joseph Li
Senior doctor says medical bill should be passed

Cheung Tak-hong, chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee of the Medical Council of Hong Kong, said the inclusion of four lay members into the Medical Council will enhance its credibility and transparency. (Edmond Tang / China Daily)

HONG KONG - Cheung Tak-hong, chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee of the Medical Council of Hong Kong, defended the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016, saying it should be passed without further delays.

He said the inclusion of four lay members into the Medical Council will enhance its credibility and transparency and reduce criticism of “doctors siding doctors”. It will also help speed up the investigation of medical complaints.

He rejects claims that doctors from the Chinese mainland and foreign countries will come to Hong Kong more easily without passing the licensing examination. He says this is “total nonsense” and will not happen.

Speaking to China Daily in an exclusive interview, Cheung said in case of different opinions in the Legislative Council, lawmakers will discuss it in a democratic manner before voting.

He opposes medical constituency lawmaker Leung Ka-lau and the forces backing him. He says they are obstructing the bill for their own interests. If the bill is not passed, not only will Hong Kong people pay a price, but also the reputations of doctors will be damaged.

“The thing is they (Leung and other medical groups) know they will definitely lose. So they stir up trouble and claim the government will manipulate the Medical Council through the law amendment and they will lose their professional autonomy, thus forcing the political parties to change their original support for the bill.

“It is very bad (for them) to smear the government. In fact, they raised a new reason for their opposition toward the bill after their initial concerns are addressed. But their allegation of the government manipulating the Medical Council is totally groundless,” he said.

The bill passed the second reading stage last week after Leung was filibustering by abusing the quorum bell. This resulted in an aborted meeting on June 29. Yet after the second reading was passed, Leung raised a motion that seeks to establish a select committee to examine the bill to delay it by wasting more time. The debate in the Legislative Council will resume on Wednesday.

Since the current four-year legislative term will expire at midnight of the coming Friday, it is important to pass the bill before the deadline.

Cheung went on to rebut the queries of the medical unions. “It is a good thing to add four lay members to the Medical Council,” he said. “Despite the increase, the ratio of medical members to lay members in the Medical Council is 24: 8 and how can they say they will lose professional autonomy?

“If they continue to be defensive like this, they will harm the image of the Medical Council,” he said.

To counter the four new lay members, the Civic Party’s Kwok Ka-ki, a doctor, proposes an increase of four medical members at the same time.

“It is protectionism packaged as equality,” Cheung commented. “But it is in fact very childish – just like a kid demanding four sweeties after seeing another kid has got four.  There is no harm in having more medical members but they should not oppose the bill simply because of this.”

With the addition of four lay members, it is possible to open one more preliminary investigation committee simultaneously (from one to two) to speed up inquiries into complaints against medical blunders.

“Some people claim that four new lay members cannot help expedite investigation of medical complaints. Yet they are not telling the entire truth that apart from four new members, back-up resources, including a new legal advisor, 20 arbitration advisers and support by the secretariat will be added,” he explained.

As to the extension of practice of overseas doctors under limited registration from one year to three years, Cheung said that would help ease shortage of manpower in the short term. But it would do this without lowering the threshold and professional standards.

“This will not open up the floodgate of foreign and mainland doctors into Hong Kong because the Medical Council will only admit the types of doctors that Hong Kong is short of. This is a flexible arrangement to attract overseas doctors because it takes six years to train a doctor in Hong Kong,” he said.

Cheung pointed to the Hong Kong Medical Association as the force backing Leung’s obstruction of passage of the bill. He said: “The Medical Association wants to manipulate the Medical Council. At present, 14 of the 28 Medical council’s members come from the Medical Association. If four doctors are added, 18 of the members of the Medical Council will come from the association and they will then be able to manipulate the council.”

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