Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority will offer medical staff low-interest loans of up to HK$6 million to buy flats in an attempt to stop employees leaving, but a union leader said the move would have only a limited effect.
As of last month, the employee attrition rate in public hospitals was 6.2 per cent for doctors and 7.7 per cent for nurses, a figure which Henry Fan, chair of the Hospital Authority, described as “worrying” after a board meeting on Thursday.
Under the new scheme, employees who have worked for the HA for more than three years will be eligible for a home loan equivalent to 36 to 48 months of their basic salary, capped at around HK$5-6 million.
Loans will be repayable over 20 years and carry a below-market interest rate of about one per cent. The properties they buy must be for self-occupation only.
The HA will use the remaining budget from an existing subsidy scheme to fund new home loans. Fan said they plan to transfer the loans to financial institutions and there will be no need for extra government funding.
“We will have to consult our colleagues now to see if this helps them, and whether there can be more flexibility,” Fan said. Details of the scheme were still to be worked out, including whether it would prioritise first-time home buyers, work experience or occupations.
Fan said the loan scheme may not be applicable to the situation of all all staff since there were multiple reasons for employee turnover, including emigration, switching to the private medical market, or simply taking a break.
“If [they] are to emigrate, we have no way to persuade them to stay.”
Fan said it was not known how many staff would benefit from the scheme but there would be other measures designed to keep staff. “I hope that eventually there will be one or two measures our colleagues find attractive.”
The board also approved an increase in promotion posts for doctors and nurses and the establishment of a Hospital Authority Academy to improve professional training.
The number of promotion posts for consultants will be tripled from 100 to 300 in the following three years. More than 300 promotion posts for nurses will also be created in the next two years.
David Chan, acting chair of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, told HKFP the newly announced measures “do not address the root problem.”
The head of the pro-democracy union said the home loan scheme would only appeal to a limited number with plans to buy flats in Hong Kong. “Many did not complain about welfare or salary, they left because of emigration, the socio-political environment and the working environment in the HA.”
Fan said the moves were intended to “buy time” for overseas doctors and medical school graduates to join the public hospital workforce.
In October the legislature passed a law to allow overseas-trained doctors to practise without passing a local licensing exam, in spite of concerns expressed by local doctors and industry groups over the qualifications of foreign doctors, especially from mainland China.
Fan said the new measures “will help create a happy living and working environment for staff members so they will continue to stay in public hospitals and serve the public.”
But Chan said it would take longer to deal with the core problems of the public medical sector – an excessive workload and a lack of resources and manpower.
“Even when graduates and overseas doctors join, there will still be a manpower shortage,” Chan said. “Many who left were experienced colleagues who cannot be replaced by graduates, while foreign practitioners will need time to re-adapt.”
Chan said members of the union and many frontline staff in public hospitals understood that “the problems were not going to be addressed.”
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