Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that importing foreign medical professionals without a clear plan will only spark more controversy.
At a legislative Q&A session on Wednesday, Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung said Lam should consider allowing foreign medical professionals to work in Hong Kong. He said the children of Hong Kong people who studied medicine overseas could come back to the city to work as doctors.
“I know that the chief executive had said that the medical sector does not have consensus over this. But I believe it could happen if you want to do so,” Chung said.
Lam said the working environment for medical professionals was not ideal, but it will take time to solve the issue.
Over the past two weekends, frontline public hospital doctors and nurses have protested against a lack of resources and their heavy workload, as over-run facilities struggle to battle flu season.
Lam said that the government has given an extra HK$500 million in funding to the Hospital Authority to tackle the crisis. She added that there was already increased funding this year to ensure medical professionals “feel respected and supported.”
“But I am afraid that if the government today suddenly proposes allowing in doctors who are non-Hong Kong graduates, and not registered in Hong Kong, it will spark another controversy,” she said.
“Doctors already have to do so much work in hospitals every day, but they will have to spend time discussing whether and how the requirement should be relaxed – this is not something I want to see. This problem has to be handled, and we will discuss with the industry, the legislature and society later.”
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Ann Chiang said Hong Kong schools were unable to train doctors fast enough.
She said Singapore had a more severe doctor shortage a decade ago, but the country now has 5,733 foreign doctors, comprising of around 42 per cent of the total. She said 4,359 of Singapore’s foreign doctors worked in public hospitals.
Hong Kong only has 105 foreign doctors, of whom ten work in public hospitals.
“The policy has problems. We hope the government can amend the law whereby Hong Kong students who studied in accredited overseas medical schools can work in Hong Kong without needing to go through a conversion exam,” Chiang said.
Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Michael Luk, who said he was a student nurse, said the Hospital Authority often hired part-time medical staff via outsourced agents, creating more administrative costs.
Lam said in reply that there would be unnecessary bureaucracy if the government intervenes in the management of the Hospital Authority, but she will follow up with them nonetheless. She said short-term measures announced on Tuesday included speeding up the process for the Authority to hire part-time doctors and nurses on its own.