A chronic shortage of doctors has prompted Hong Kong health chiefs to propose a new pathway for non-locally trained doctors to be cleared to work in the city’s public healthcare sector.

Officials from Food and Health Bureau on Tuesday said the move was necessary to plug what they described as a “severe shortage” of doctors and to meet an increasing demand for public healthcare services due to the city’s ageing population.

Public hospital doctors. File Photo: Citizen News.

The bureau estimates the shortage will worsen in the coming years, with the projected shortfall of healthcare manpower reaching 1,610 in 2030 and 1,949 in 2040. The city currently has a ratio of two doctors per 1,000 people.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said Hong Kong needed to tap into non-locally trained medical personnel to bolster its public health system because previous attempts to increase local training places and retain doctors in the public health sector have not been able to alleviate the shortage.

Under the government’s proposal, doctors who have qualified abroad and want to apply for the “special registration” pathway must satisfy four conditions, which include being a Hong Kong permanent resident, being registered abroad and holding a medical qualification from a list of approved overseas institutions.

Photo: Kristopher Radder via Wikicommons.

Potential applicants must also have worked full-time for at least five years at public institutions under the Hospital Authority or the Department of Health. They must also be considered to have been competent during that period of employment.

A list of overseas qualifications recognised under the new pathway will be determined by a new Special Registration Committee, which will take into account the medical school’s instruction medium, curriculum, and international ranking, Chan said.

The 10-person committee will comprise of representatives of the city’s health officials, heads of medical licensing bodies and deans of local medical schools, as well as four other members appointed by the chief executive.

Caritas Medical Centre, managed by the Hospital Authority. Photo: Wikicommons

The pathway is also available to new university graduates, who will need to undergo at least six years of specialist training before working five years in the public sector before achieving full medical registration.

Chan said it was not possible to estimate how many new doctors the new scheme will attract to the city, but said the scheme has been welcomed by overseas university groups during government consultations.

The new pathway will not affect the job prospects of locally-trained medical graduates, Chan added.

Public hospital improvement

The secretary said the new proposal aims to alleviate existing issues in the city’s public healthcare sector by shortening “extremely long” waiting times and improving levels of service.

“We are confident that the bill will be helpful,” she said, adding that the government will continue to improve our public healthcare system by increasing training places and improving hospital hardware.

Sophia Chan. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

Waiting times for Hospital Authority services currently stand at around two weeks for urgent cases and eight weeks for semi-urgent matters. The Department of Health’s Child Assessment Services, meanwhile, have a 40 per cent vacancy rate.

The city’s percentage of non-locally trained doctors has dropped from 45 per cent between 1991 and 2000 to 10.7 per cent from 2011-2020.

Amendments to the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill are expected to be introduced to be gazetted on Friday and presented to the Legislative Council on June 2. Bills presented to the council are expected to pass comfortably without opposition since the entire democrat camp quit last November following the ousting of four of their colleagues.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.