LCQ3: Healthcare manpower

     Following is a question by the Hon Ronny Tong and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (May 25):


     Some healthcare staff have relayed to me that mainland pregnant women giving birth in Hong Kong has triggered the problem of severe shortage of healthcare manpower and resources in the public sector.  These healthcare staff have pointed out that not only have the nurses complained that the nurse-to-patient ratio has exceeded international standards, the doctors have also complained about excessive working hours and patient numbers which have turned them into "medical machines", leaving them insufficient time for patient consultation; and there is even competition for resources among hospitals or hospital clusters because of the dearth of resources.  They have also pointed out that although the Hospital Authority and the Food and Health Bureau have respectively proposed allocating additional funding and training more healthcare staff to meet the shortage so as to solve the problems emerging at present, healthcare staff and the professional bodies to which they belong are not optimistic about this.  They also query whether the authorities have any long-term improvement plan to cope with the shortage of healthcare manpower and resources.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the measures to be formulated or the resources to be allocated by the authorities in the next five years to solve the problems of shortage of healthcare manpower, long working hours of doctors, insufficient resources and insufficient development of services in various hospitals;

(b) whether the authorities have estimated the community demand for public healthcare services in the next five to 10 years; if they have, of the specific content and the outcome as shown in the estimation, whether the authorities can ensure that the recommendations or policies concerned will effectively meet the estimated demand at that time; if such an estimation has not been made, the reasons for that, and the role and strategy of the Government in public healthcare policy; and

(c) under the situation of severe shortage of healthcare manpower, whether the Government will negotiate with the trade to expeditiously study the relaxation of the restrictions on foreign healthcare professionals practising in Hong Kong; if not, of the reasons for that?



(a) With an ageing population and advances in medical technology, there is an increasing demand for healthcare services in the community, and the manpower requirement for healthcare personnel grows commensurately. We are concerned about the heavy work pressure faced by the frontline healthcare professionals in the Hospital Authority (HA), and we gratefully appreciate their dedication and devotion in serving the citizens in public hospitals.

     In the past few years, HA has been allocating additional resources to address manpower issues. In 2011-12, HA will continue to recruit additional healthcare staff, including about 330 doctors and 1,720 nurses, to meet the service demand. At the same time, HA will implement a series of measures, including the creation of additional promotion posts and strengthening of professional training, with a view to improving staff retention, boosting staff morale and strengthening manpower.

     We are particularly concerned about the working environment of our healthcare staff.  HA has been endeavouring to relieve the workload of its frontline healthcare workers by re-engineering work processes, streamlining work procedures and recruiting additional supporting staff.  For instance, HA has substantially increased the number of healthcare supporting staff since 2008, with an annual increase of more than 7%.  Besides, to increase doctor manpower in the short-term, HA will extend the existing pilot scheme for employment of part-time doctors in the Obstetric and Gynaecological specialty to other specialties in 2011-12.

     Over the past years, the Administration has proceeded with the planning to increase the number of training places for doctors and nurses. It is anticipated that there will be an increase in the number of medical graduates and nurse graduates in the next few years. For doctors, the student intake of the two faculties of medicine has increased from 250 to 320 annually in the 2009-10 to 2011-12 triennium. As for nurses, the number of nurse graduates is expected to reach about 1,800 this year, including graduates from local universities (including University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded programmes and self-financed programmes), HA nursing schools and local private hospitals. In the next few years, it is anticipated that there will be approximately 2,000 nurses each year available for recruitment. HA will continue to step up its recruitment efforts to meet the service demand.

(b) In planning the provision of public healthcare services, HA takes into consideration a number of factors, including the projected demand for healthcare services having regard to population growth and demographic changes, the growth rate of services of individual specialties, and the possible changes in healthcare services utilisation pattern, etc. According to HA's projection, during the period between 2008 and 2016, it is estimated that the number of discharges from hospitals and the number of attendances for Accident and Emergency, specialist and general out-patient services will have an annual increase of about 2%, while the population grows by 0.8% annually on average. HA will continue to monitor the trend of demand for various healthcare services, and to implement hospital development programmes and other appropriate measures to ensure that our services are capable of meeting the needs of the society. For instance, HA will provide additional general beds in the New Territories West Cluster this year to cope with the projected growth in demand for hospital services in some districts. In addition, a number of ongoing hospital development projects, such as the new North Lantau Hospital (Phase 1), the expansion of Tseung Kwan O Hospital and a new hospital in Tin Shui Wai, will also provide additional beds in the coming years.

     As regards the supply of healthcare manpower, apart from the increase in the supply of healthcare graduates in the coming few years as mentioned above, we have recently reviewed the manpower requirements for healthcare professionals and forwarded our findings to the UGC in step with its triennial academic development planning cycle. In projecting the manpower requirements for healthcare professionals, we take into account the views of the major employers of healthcare workers, including HA, the Department of Health, welfare service providers and private hospitals. The relevant considerations include the number of retirees each year, the trend of wastage, the assessment on ageing population, demographic changes, the special needs of the community for particular areas of services, and the trend of development of healthcare professions and medical technology, etc. We will continue to encourage the tertiary institutions to increase student places to ensure an adequate manpower supply for the provision of healthcare services in the long-term.

(c) Under the Medical Registration Ordinance, with the exception of graduates of the faculties of medicine of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, all those who intend to obtain a practising licence through registration with the Medical Council, regardless of whether or not they have already obtained a practising licence outside Hong Kong, are required to satisfy the Council that they have completed medical training and hold a medical qualification approved by the Council, sit and passed the Medical Council's Licensing Examination and completed successfully a 12-month internship training in Hong Kong before they can register as medical practitioners in Hong Kong. The Licensing Examination of the Medical Council aims to ensure that those who wish to register as medical practitioners in Hong Kong after receiving medical training outside Hong Kong have attained a professional standard comparable to that of local medical graduates, so as to safeguard the quality of our medical services and public health.

     The Medical Registration Ordinance also empowers the Medical Council to approve individual applications of overseas medical practitioners for limited registration for a period not exceeding one year. Applicants must meet the qualifications stipulated in the Ordinance. Upon approval and endorsement by the Council, they can be exempted from taking the Licensing Examination and registered as medical practitioners with limited registration. HA will consider recruiting doctors trained in the overseas to serve in public hospitals through limited registration, with a view to strengthening healthcare manpower and providing supporting services.

     As regards healthcare manpower, the Administration will study service developments and manpower requirements in the public and private sectors, and consult the practitioners and the Medical Council as and when appropriate. When considering different feasible measures, we have to ensure that all healthcare professionals providing services in Hong Kong satisfy our requirements on professional standards in order to provide the public with reliable and professional healthcare services.

Ends/Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:41