by Kevin Li
The controversial Medical Registration (Amendment) Ordinance bill met with a public outcry which resulted in filibustering by a group of legislators, leading to its collapse. In the current political impasse of Hong Kong, it is conceivable that any controversy, however tiny, could evolve into a matter of trust in the government led by C.Y. Leung.
It was indeed the consensus of the medical profession and the public that the Medical Council should be reformed in order to bring more transparency to its governance and to speed up the handling of complaints. However, instead of allowing ample time for deliberation of such an important piece of legislation, the government decided to pursue the amendment of the ordinance with only few months of consultations.
The medical profession has never rejected increasing public participation by adding lay members to the Council, and repeatedly put forward proposals (such as the 6+6 proposal put forward by Dr Leung Ka-lau, the representative Legislator of the medical sector) that could achieve a win-win situation by lowering the lay to doctor ratio to 1:3 (it is now 1:6), while at the same time maintaining the autonomy of the profession.
The professional autonomy of the medical sector is the best safeguard of the professional standard of medical practitioners in Hong Kong. However, instead of heeding the advice of the profession, the government insisted on pursuing its own proposal, which toppled the balance between elected and appointed members in the Council.
Considering also the stated aim of “facilitating the admission of non-locally trained doctors, in particular specialists, to practise in Hong Kong,” the public and the profession’s fear of the Council being manipulated to bring in an influx of under-qualified doctors is not unfounded at all.
Due to the government’s stubbornness resulting in the stalemate, we are now seeing a lose-lose situation between the public and the medical profession. Certain patients support groups have expressed their frustration at the impasse, and put the blame exclusively on the ‘protectionist’ attitude of the medical profession. While such frustrations are totally understandable, it must be pointed out that the majority of the responsibility should be born by the government.
As a matter of fact, the controversial amendment bill was pulled down with the assistance from many democratically elected legislators of the geographical constituencies, who received backing from their electorates. Protectionism has unfortunately become an easy way for the government to blame the medical profession alone for the failure of reform.
As Charles Dickens said: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness”. The reform of the Medical Council must carry on. However, any further attempts by the government to fool the public and the profession with a sham reform will again be met with rebuke.
We believe that only through mutual trust and respect between the public and the medical profession can a true reform be brought upon the Medical Council which would enhance transparency and public involvement, while maintaining professional autonomy. These pillars are all essential for maintaining the standard of medical practice in Hong Kong.
Kevin Li is a doctor working in a public hospital.