Medical Council reform bill debate stalemated

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Tommy Cheung of Liberal Party hopes to import foreign doctors to improve local healthcare; but medical lawmaker Leung Ka-lau’s procrastination strategy by frequently motioning quorum calls during the debate is preventing passage of the reform bill.

(Photo credit: Jeni Zhi)

The amendment bill was based on Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan’s (張宇人) original draft in 2015. Cheung told Harbour Times that he intends to end doctors’ monopoly over the supply of doctors and introduce overseas doctors to Hong Kong, so to improve the quality of local healthcare services.

“I know people who have been to both public and private hospitals, and they are dissatisfied with the quality of healthcare offered for the price they had paid,” he explained. “Currently, [local] doctors make HK$1,000,000 a month, some of them a week. [If they are not giving up their control over supply,] they can make HK$1,000,000 in a day.”

In response to doctors and localists citing horror stories of mainland healthcare and asserting that importing non-locally trained doctors will pave way for unprofessional Chinese doctors to practice in Hong Kong, Cheung, a firm believer of the free market, dismissed such claims.

“[Doctors say,] ‘If Chinese doctors are coming to Hong Kong like British doctors did [during the colonial era], our patients are at risk of death’,” Cheung said. “This is protectionism.”

Cheung also would like to ask the government to consider the Singaporean practice – drawing up a list of overseas medical schools which their graduates can practice in Hong Kong. “I think we should go towards that direction,” he remarked.

Apart from importing non-locally trained doctors, the reform bill will change the composition of the Medical Council. Some doctors are worried that increasing the number of chief executive-appointed lay members will increase Leung Chun-ying (梁振英)’s influence over the Council.

Leung Ka-lau (梁家騮), representing the medical sector in the functional constituencies, tried to procrastinate voting on the bill by motioning quorum calls roughly every 15 minutes. The debate was paused every time when a quorum call had been motioned, until the quorum is met.

Many legislators have expressed their irritation. Pro-establishment legislators Starry Lee Wai-king (李慧琼), Alice Mak Mei-kuen (麥美娟), Bill Tang Ka-piu (鄧家彪), Wong Kwok-hing (王國興), and Wong Kwok-kin (黃國健) publicly condemned Leung.

Democratic Party, which supported the bill, was equally frustrated. “I implored Leung Ka-lau to stop motioning quorum calls both for our sake and for Hongkongers’ sake,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing (劉慧卿) told reporters outside the chamber.

Some others in the pan-democratic camp, though, were sympathetic. “He is fighting a hard battle,” Leung ‘Long Hair’ Kwok-hung (梁國雄) said. “If the pro-establishment camp do care that much about the debate, they should send in 34 of their people here [in the chamber], so that the quorum will be met every time.” He then motioned several quorum calls, but reaffirmed his support for the bill nonetheless.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:48pm today and will be continued next Wednesday at 11am.