Non-locally trained doctors fulfill needs
This article appeared originally in the China Daily on 31 May, 2022.
Authors: Dr. Stephen Wong, Legislative Council member, and Executive Director of Public Policy Institute, Our Hong Kong Foundation
The shortage of doctors has long plagued Hong Kong’s medical system, as well as the community. The Medical Registration Ordinance was revised last year with the passing of the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2021 that will be conducive to recruiting more non-locally trained doctors.
In April, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government announced the first batch of medical qualifications recognized by the Special Registration Committee as a key step to utilize the newly introduced Special Registration pathway for the registration of medical practitioners. Encouragingly, the government has also committed to strengthening the promotion of new registration pathways via various means outside Hong Kong to encourage more qualified non-locally trained doctors to practice in Hong Kong.
Albeit measures implemented by previous administrations to increase medical manpower in Hong Kong, the shortage of doctors has yet to be alleviated. There are currently just two doctors per 1,000 population in Hong Kong, which pales in comparison with the average per capita doctor ratio of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members (3.6) and Singapore’s ratio (2.5). It is vital for the SAR government to think beyond further increasing the number of local training places and refining talent retention measures to increase the number of doctors in the local workforce to address the emerging healthcare needs of our residents in a timely manner. As with policies elsewhere in the world enforced to tackle doctor shortage crises, attracting non-locally trained doctors as an additional means to enhance doctor supply in Hong Kong must be fully leveraged.
To do this, the SAR government needs to expand the list of recognized medical qualifications as soon as possible. With only 27 qualifications in the first announced batch, it would be ideal to stretch the list that according to the government’s plan, could reach at least 100 qualifications soon. The government aims to announce the second batch in June and complete the list and relevant work within this year. Both the government and the Special Registration Committee must speed up their work to give ample preparation time to medical students aspiring to work in Hong Kong while addressing the urgent needs of local patients for more doctors.
Importantly, foresight is required as the government formulates this list of qualifications. Room for adjustment should be reserved concerning the length of the list so that it could be adapted opportunely to local supply and demand. The list is expected to function almost like a slider for the government to readily adjust the recruitment target of non-locally trained doctors so that residents’ needs can be satisfied.
Specifically, Singapore’s practical experience can be drawn on. The Second Schedule of Singapore’s Medical Registration Act listed merely 29 recognized non-local qualifications at first to ensure the quality of the practitioners. It was then adjusted several times in response to local supply and demand conditions. For example, the figure that stood at 160 in 2009 was trimmed to 103 in 2019. Over the course of those years, the per capita doctor ratio in Singapore grew from 1.62 per 1,000 population in 2008 to 2.5 in 2019.
Quality must be considered together with quantity in recruiting non-locally trained doctors. New recruits meeting a set of well thought-out standards can quickly adapt to the local public medical system and provide timely quality service to the public.