Hong Kong passed a new law on Thursday allowing overseas-trained doctors to practice without passing a local licensing exam, a move criticised by some who fear it will lead to less qualified medics, especially from the Chinese mainland.

The government says the law is meant to tackle the international finance hub’s chronic shortage of doctors.

Public hospital doctors. File Photo: Citizen News.

The city has roughly two doctors for every 1,000 people — a figure below that of most developed countries, including regional neighbour Singapore.

But local doctors and industry groups have expressed concerns over the qualifications of foreign doctors, in particular those from mainland China, citing language and cultural barriers as well as whether the training standards are the same as in Hong Kong.

The law’s controversy is also bound up in Hong Kong’s fractured politics as Beijing’s remoulds the city in the mainland’s more authoritarian image.

Hong Kong’s legislature, which has been purged of any opposition, passed the new law with the sole objection coming from Pierre Chan, a lawmaker who represents the city’s medical sector.

Pierre Chan. File photo: Pierre Chan via Facebook.

“Most doctors oppose the bill because they are worried about how to maintain Hong Kong’s healthcare standards,” Chan said, calling the bill a political decision by the government.

More than 90 percent of medical students he surveyed in June opposed the rule change, Chan added. Other critics included the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine and doctors’ groups.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers, who dominate the city’s rubber-stamp legislature, criticised the medical sector’s resistance as protectionist and “hegemonic”.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said overseas-trained doctors will be closely monitored and must satisfy a list of conditions, adding that the government did not interfere with professional autonomy.

The Accident and Emergency unit in Queen Mary Hospital. Photo: GovHK.

“The government must increase Hong Kong’s overall supply of doctors in order to tackle healthcare issues in a fundamental way,” the minister said.

Under the new law, a committee will determine a list of recognised medical schools around the world.

Doctors who graduated from those institutions and are licensed to practise abroad will be allowed to skip Hong Kong’s local licensing exam, provided they agree to work in the public healthcare system for five years.

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