【明報專訊】AMID dispute over the relaxation of the internship requirement for overseas specialist doctors, the chairman of the Medical Council has cast a tie-breaking vote to support a government-backed proposal, which was subsequently adopted. The proposal, modelled on a "government proposal", was the least restrictive among the three submitted for voting in terms of the exemption of the internship requirement. It can be said that by delivering such an outcome, the Medical Council has reasonably lived up to society's expectations. But it does not mean that protectionism in the medical profession has weakened. The system still has many unreasonable barriers and things that create difficulties for overseas doctors. They make overseas doctors feel humiliated, so much so that even offspring of Hong Kong people baulk at returning to Hong Kong and practise here. Relaxing the internship requirement may not help much if the other restrictions are not lifted. The government must continue to initiate reform in the Medical Council to ensure that the guarantee of professional autonomy does not override the public interest.
After the passage of the "government proposal", overseas specialists can become registered medical practitioners after working for three years in the Hospital Authority, medical schools or the Department of Health and passing the licensing examination. They will be exempted from the six-month internship requirement. However, there are still many barriers in the whole system. While these barriers may seem trivial, together they are enough to stop overseas doctors from coming to work in Hong Kong.
Take the licensing examination for overseas doctors. The Medical Council usually announces the exact date for the examination only six weeks in advance. This poses a rather big obstacle to overseas doctors who are already practising. The passing rate of the Licensing Examination, which is only about 20%, has also come under a lot of criticisms.
The licensing examination for overseas doctors is comprised of a written examination and a clinical examination. Some overseas doctors who have taken the examination point out that the scope of the assessment far exceeds actual clinical needs. Take the clinical examination of paediatrics. Some parts of the examination are very specialised. Unless the examination is for paediatricians, what is tested does not have much use in assessing the ability of a doctor. Some overseas veteran surgeons also felt humiliated when they learnt that even the most basic handwashing procedures were included in the clinical examination.
What some protectionists in the medical profession want to prove most is that doctors who are offspring of Hong Kong people will not return even if the internship requirement is relaxed. This, they argue, inversely shows that the problem lies totally with the Hospital Authority and has nothing to do with protectionism. This argument is somewhat misleading. If the working conditions of public hospitals continue to deteriorate, it will further discourage overseas doctors from coming to Hong Kong. When public hospitals fail to alleviate the problem of manpower, it will in turn lead to a deterioration of the working conditions in public hospitals. The only way to check this vicious cycle soon is to take steps to remove restrictions and reduce the barriers that discourage overseas specialists from coming to work in Hong Kong. The crux of the issue is not that it is "useless" to relax the internship requirement, but that this should not be the final step.
Doctors are like parents to their patients. Many doctors in Hong Kong work very hard every day to help their patients. Nevertheless, the problem of protectionism in the medical profession is a barrier to improving Hong Kong's health service. The duty of the government is to ensure that guaranteeing professional autonomy does not mean allowing private interest to come first and override the public interest. The government must speed up the introduction of reform in the Medical Council and discourage protectionism. If doctors and the medical profession oppose the government's further introduction of measures to recruit overseas specialists, the government should consider revoking their right to professional autonomy.
lift : to remove
trivial : not important
check : to control