Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority has said it will take “ultimate responsibility” if any of the newly-arrived Chinese doctors and nurses are the cause of any medical mishaps. The first 75 medics from the mainland arrived on Monday to help combat Covid-19 amid a manpower shortage.

75 mainland medics arrived at Hong Kong on March 14. Photo: GovHK.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said earlier on Monday that an additional 300 will arrive within a week.

The imported medics will initially assist the Hospital Authority and provide treatment at AsiaWorld-Expo, which is primarily handling elderly Covid-19 patients without severe symptoms.

Hong Kong’s government has used emergency powers to allow mainland medical workers to operate locally without them having to pass local exams, bypassing licensing regulations.

AsiaWorld-Expo. File Photo: GovHK.

According to China’s official state news agency Xinhua, the batch included 36 doctors and 39 nurses from 14 of the highest-level public hospitals in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan and Zhuhai.

Xinhua said they mostly worked in respiratory, nephrology, cardiology and other departments “close related to treating elderly patients,” while six were experts in infection control and four were Chinese medicine practitioners.

‘Final responsibility’

During Monday afternoon’s daily Covid-19 briefing, a Hospital Authority officer avoided questions over who would be responsible if mainland medics committed any medical mishaps, despite repeated questioning by four news outlets.

The Hospital Authority told HKFP on Tuesday that it has already appointed the supporting mainland medical teams as “honorary staff,” meaning existing insurance terms covering public hospital patients would also apply to the imported staffers.

The authority added that, when the Chinese medics are carrying out medical procedures, their identity would be as doctors or nurses under the authority. The Hospital Authority itself would bear “final responsibility” if they encounter problems during treatment.

Nevertheless, Tony Ling, president of Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, told RTHK on Tuesday that the mainland medics were not locally registered so – if medical accidents occur – the procedure for patients to file complaints would differ.

He said the Medical Council of Hong Kong would not be able to intervene or proceed with disciplinary hearings as the mainland medical teams were not licensed in Hong Kong and “there will be no license to delist” if related staff left the city.

Ling also said that, according to his understanding, the first batch of mainland personnel would be primarily taking care of patients while local medics were responsible for medical decisions such as medication and discharge.

In a government statement released on Monday night, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan expressed her “heartfelt gratitude” to the Central and Guangdong Province authorities and said the arrival of mainland medical workers was “a great boost for our anti-epidemic efforts in tackling the fifth wave of the epidemic.”

As of Monday, the city has reported 733,785 Covid-19 infections and 4,279 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.