Doctors declare war on the government

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Doctors sit in outside Legco in protest of a planned increase in representation of government-appointed lay persons to sit on the Medical Council of Hong Kong.

(Photo credit: Jeni Zhi)

The war between doctors is heating up as second reading of the Medical Registration (Amendment) bill resumed yesterday (29 June). With overwhelming support from legislators, the amendment bill is expected to pass if no filibusters.

According to the amendment bill, the number of Medical Council of Hong Kong (the Council) members will be expanded from 28 to 32. The election process of the original 14 elected members – seven elected by registered medical practitioners plus seven elected by council members of the Hong Kong Medical Association (HKMA) – will remain unchanged. The two additional elected members under the amendment’s provision will be elected by members of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine (HKAM).

As the amendment changes HKAM’s representation at the Council from appointed to elected, HKAM’s two appointees will be replaced by CE-appointed lay persons. Furthermore, two more lay persons will be appointed to maintain the 1:1 ratio between appointed and elected members. In short, the amendment raised the number of lay persons handpicked by the CE from four to eight.

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The government’s explanation is that this change will increase patients’ representation at the Council. It has pledged to appoint patients’ and consumers’ representatives to some of the eight seats for lay persons.

HKMA organised a sit-in yesterday afternoon outside Legco in protest of the amendment bill. Medical students at HKU and CUHK joined in as well. Kwok Ka-ki (郭家麒), a Legco member (New Territories West) and doctor, said this is the “doctors’ declaration of war on the government”.

Dr Gabriel Choi Kin (蔡堅), chairman of HKMA, indicated his disappointment at the government and legislators in favour of the amendment bill. He said he will join the annual 1 July protest march this Friday. “I will be there at the 1 July march … as an individual,” he told reporters at the sit-in. “I have practised as a doctor for more than 40 years, I think what I am witnessing now is problematic.”

On the other hand, Dr Louis Shih Tai-cho (史泰祖), former president of HKMA, supports the amendment, but acknowledged the concerns of his fellow doctors.

“I lean towards a yes vote,” he told Harbour Times. “Some doctors are worried that the appointing process for patients’ representatives might be unclear. I hope the government will provide a clear and strict criteria [for appointed membership] … [so to clarify] that this is not the government trying to gerrymander.”

Democratic Party legislators are planning to vote in favour of the amendment bill. Albert Ho Chun-yan (何俊仁) trusts the reformed appointing process will be fair. “The chief executive cannot possibly control everything,” he said at the Legco debate. “[You] don’t expect [bodies who nominate candidates to the CE, like] HKU and CUHK to always listen to him.”

Medical legislator Leung Ka-lau (梁家騮) told Harbour Times that he finds Democratic Party’s decision to vote in favour of the bill “understandable”, but would like legislators to consider voting on each article of the bill, instead of passing it as a whole. At 6:35pm yesterday evening, the Legco general meeting adjourned without voting.

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Doctors sitting in outside Legco. (Photo credit: Jeni Zhi)