University of Hong Kong professor defends government study projecting manpower crisis in medical sector

The medical school dean of a Hong Kong university on Sunday defended the government’s first comprehensive review of medical staffing against accusations that the study had failed to make accurate predictions.

Professor Gabriel Leung of the University of Hong Kong also urged authorities to improve primary medical care services, just four days after the city’s Food and Health Bureau released a manpower review of more than 13 professions, projecting a manpower crisis in nine of them, including dentists, general nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The shortage is a result of the city’s ageing population.

Hong Kong faces medical manpower crisis, government study warns

Leung assured the public of the report’s independence and credibility, saying that experts from the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University had provided input and technical support.

“Different people hold different views. We may look at the problems illustrated by the report’s figures differently,” he said during a TVB talk show.

“But we should not doubt the credibility of the report. The two universities involved have no vested interests.”

Some medical practitioners earlier said that the report exaggerated the manpower problem as it failed to accurately estimate the capacity provided by private doctors, who can play a larger role in primary health care.

Another worry was that a suggestion to recruit overseas practitioners would lead to doctors here not having a job in future.

The report said that doctors would be affected the most, as the shortage of 285 practitioners last year was expected to increase to 500 by 2020, and 1,007 by 2030, if the city is to maintain its current level of service.

“An undisputable fact is that there is a shortage (of doctors) in public hospitals. Everyone understands that. Are there enough (doctors) in the private market? They don’t work fixed hours and get fixed income. They enjoy higher flexibility,” he said.

“No one would dare to say that there is an ample supply of doctors in Hong Kong.”

Leung, the former undersecretary for food and health, urged the government to step up its efforts to enhance the role of primary medical care services – referring to non-specialist medical services, and services at private clinics.

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He highlighted a government report released in 1990, which gave a list of recommendations on how to improve primary care services.

“The recommendations were never implemented. Now, 27 years later, is it time to put them into practice?” he said.

The medical school dean said that though the government had introduced a health-care voucher scheme for the elderly in 2009, which aims to alleviate pressure in the public medical sector, more needed to be done.

He also said that if medical schools in the city were planning to admit more students, they should be given more resources.

Addressing the report’s projected shortage in physiotherapists, Ma Wui-leung, spokesman for concern group Physio Action, said that the government had in fact underestimated the shortfall.

Meanwhile, the fee raise for emergency ward services at public hospitals – from HK$100 to HK$180 – took effect on Sunday. The measure is aimed at easing overcrowding issues at public emergency wards, which handled 2.2 million visits in 2015.

Dr Luk Che-chung, the Hospital Authority’s Hong Kong West cluster chief executive, said the number of people seeking help at Queen Mary Hospital was at a normal level. It would take a few more days to find out the impact of the fee increase, he added.