Dozens of doctors and medical students held a sit-in outside the Legislative Council on Wednesday in protest of proposed changes to the Medical Council of Hong Kong. A second reading of the plan is expected to pass in the Legislative Council on the same day.

Pro-democracy Civic Party member and doctor Kwok Ka-ki said it was “a sad day… doctors have never been forced to take to the streets and come to the Legislative Council.”

The government submitted a proposal previously suggesting that four lay members – meaning individuals outside of the medical profession – be added to the council. It said that it would help speed up processing of medical complaints. However, doctors at the protest said that such an addition would make no significant difference.

doctors sit in legco
Doctors at the sit-in outside the Legislative Council. Photo: Chantal Yuen, HKFP.

Speaking to HKFP, Dr. Wong Yee-him, council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association and member of the Medical Council, said: “I believe they’re deceiving us… they tell us that by adding four non-doctors into the Medical Council, they can speed up the efficiency of the Medical Council. But in reality we know that this is not possible.”

Most members at a medical complaint hearing must be doctors, he said. He also said the complaints process was long and that it was very difficult to find doctors who are willing to serve as expert witnesses, pro-bono, for patients or family members planning on going through complaints process. “The coming legislation does not address any of these issues,” Wong said.

Doctors and supporters took turns to speak at the front of the sit-in
Doctors and supporters took turns to speak in front of the sit-in. Photo: Chantal Yuen, HKFP.

Approving overseas-trained doctors

The government has also been planning on bringing more overseas-trained doctors to the city. Doctors opposed to the changes to the Medical council said that adding four non-members will allow the government to approve the plan more easily. They also claim the entry requirements for such individuals may be too lax.

Dr. David Lam Tzit-yuen, who attended the rally, said: “As for those doctors who graduated overseas, we have always welcomed them because Hong Kong really lacks staff in its public health systems… but apart from welcoming, we need to keep the quality… How come our requirements for overseas doctors are lower than those who are locally trained?”

Lam said that the government intends to bypass the current examination system for overseas-trained doctors and that a vote by the council cannot decide whether a doctor’s quality of care is up to par.

Kwong Po-yin
Kwong Po-yin. Photo: Chantal Yuen, HKFP.

Doctor and pro-democracy district councillor Kwong Po-yin said: “Treating patients is about lives, we don’t wish to have those who are unqualified or do not meet certain standards to treat our patients. We hope when people see doctors they feel comfortable and do not ask where they came from.” She also said that most overseas-trained doctors who come to Hong Kong do not enter the public health system.

medical students sit-in
Hong Kong medical students at the sit-in. Photo: Chantal Yuen, HKFP.

Other professions next

Dr. Kwok Ka-ki said: “We don’t want to see the government intervening into other professions. This time it’s the Medical Council, but soon maybe many more professions will be controlled by the government. So this is a fight. And we cannot lose this fight.”

He said that if the government is unwilling to talk to them, “from this day, the medical field has no choice but to no longer walk with the government, and continue to resist and to demand professional independence.”

doctors at sit-in
Doctors and medical students against new Medical Council proposals. Photo: Chantal Yuen, HKFP.

The protest was initiated by the Hong Kong Medical Association and is expected to last until 8pm. Other medical groups, such as medical student associations of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong were also present at the scene.

Update (6:47pm): At around 6:30pm on Wednesday, the meeting at the Legislative Council was cut short due to an inadequate number of lawmakers in the chamber. The meeting will continue on July 6.

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.