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The SAR government announced on Wednesday that the Food and Health Bureau has proposed amendments to the Medical Registration Ordinance to increase lay participation in the Medical Council of

Hong Kong and improve its complaint investigation and disciplinary inquiry mechanism. In view of mounting concerns over issues relating to doctors, the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 will be introduced into the Legislative Council next month.

The initiative to optimize the self-regulatory system of the medical profession is generally welcomed by the community. Most Hong Kong residents would agree that reform of the regulatory and disciplinary mechanism of this sector is long overdue.

The health service sector has been allowed to exercise self-regulation for decades. But it has done a less-than-adequate job convincing the public about this. There has long been a perception in society that the self-regulatory body takes too long to investigate complaints lodged by patients against doctors. There have been several highly publicized cases which took many years to reach a conclusion. The council has also been accused of being overprotective of doctors' interests at the expense of patients when handling such complaints.

The proposed reforms include increasing the number of lay council members from four to eight, with total membership increased from 28 to 32, of which 25 percent will be lay members. The number of lay persons appointed to a Preliminary Investigation Committee and that of lay council members appointed to the Health Committee is proposed to be increased from one to two. The council may establish more than one Preliminary Investigation Committee to handle complaints and there will be more lay participation in it. Sensibly, these changes are intended to accelerate the handling of complaints, make the process more transparent and decisions fairer.

The amendments also include measures to facilitate the admission of non-locally trained doctors. This not only makes sense but is also imperative, given that the current process of admitting overseas doctors is pathetically slow while the city is in desperate need of more doctors, particularly in the public healthcare sector.

The fact that many complaints about incompetence and malpractice by licensed doctors were not addressed for years does not support the Medical Council's objections to reform of its regulatory and disciplinary mechanism. Neither does the severe shortage of medical professionals in the city. The SAR government deserves praise for taking the first step to reform the regulatory system for the benefit of the wider community.

(HK Edition 02/26/2016 page10)

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