LCQ1: Operation of Medical Council of Hong Kong

     Following is a question by the Hon Alice Mak and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):

     The functions of the Medical Council of Hong Kong (MCHK) include instituting, in accordance with the established mechanism, disciplinary proceedings in respect of complaints received against registered medical practitioners. However, quite a number of members of the public have pointed out that the efficiency of MCHK in handling complaints has all along been a subject of criticism over the years, and some members of the public even perceive that "doctors harbour each other" in the handling of complaints by MCHK. Given that the voice calling for a reform of MCHK has become increasingly louder in society, the Government introduced the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 into this Council in March this year. The Bill has aroused widespread controversies and lapsed upon the expiry of the previous term of Legislative Council (LegCo) in July this year. Some members of the public are worried that reform of MCHK has been put off indefinitely. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(1) the number of new complaints received by MCHK, and the accumulated number of complaints the processing of which was not yet completed by MCHK, in each of the past five years;

(2) the number of complaints the processing of which was completed by the Preliminary Investigation Committee under MCHK (with a breakdown according to whether such cases were accepted or not), and the number of cases for which MCHK conducted disciplinary inquiries, in each of the past five years; and

(3) the main causes for MCHK being criticised for being inefficient in handling complaints, and whether such causes include the shortage of manpower and other resources faced by the MCHK Secretariat, or the unsatisfactory work efficiency of individual committees under MCHK; the current work plan of the authorities for reforming MCHK; whether the authorities will introduce the relevant bill into LegCo as soon as possible; if they will, of the details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the three questions raised by the Hon Alice Mak is as follows.

(1) In 2011 to 2015, the Medical Council of Hong Kong (MCHK) received 461, 480, 452, 624 and 493 complaint cases respectively. Currently, there is a backlog of about 960 cases, of which about 600 cases are at the pre-preliminary investigation stage, 260 at the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC) stage and 95 at the inquiry stage.

(2) In 2011 to 2015, the number of complaint cases handled by PIC and the number of inquiries conducted by MCHK in each of the past five years are detailed at Annex. As for 2015, 149 cases were dismissed after the pre-preliminary investigation stage as they were considered frivolous or groundless. A total of 129 cases were handled at PIC meetings in 2015, of which 57 cases were referred to MCHK for inquiry, 35 considered minor offences with no need for inquiry, one referred to the Health Committee for hearing and 36 cases dismissed.

(3) The Government has great concern over the operation of MCHK, especially the backlog of cases and the prolonged time required for handling complaints. The number of backlog cases has reached 960. Due to the backlog of cases, the time required for scheduling an inquiry has further aggravated, increased from 28 months to about 36 months. Besides, the mode of operation of PIC has been changed in response to a court judgment, resulting in yet longer time for PIC stage. According to the latest estimate by the MCHK Secretariat, it will take an average of 72 months to handle a case starting from receipt of a complaint to the conduct of disciplinary inquiry unless legislative amendment to improve the operation of MCHK is introduced as soon as possible. 

     The Government has provided an additional funding of $6.2 million to strengthen the manpower support for the MCHK Secretariat and to give honorarium to experts who provide assistance at the preliminary investigation stage, with a view to improving complaint handling through administrative means as far as possible. The long time taken by MCHK to handle complaints owes less to the efficiency of the MCHK Secretariat, but mainly to the bottlenecks under the Medical Registration Ordinance (MRO), including:

(a) Only one PIC can be formed;

(b) There are four lay Council members in MCHK. A lay Council member must be present in forming the quorum of a PIC meeting and all complaint cases are to be handled by the four lay Council members. Since a lay Council member who has served on PIC cannot attend the subsequent inquiry meeting of the same case, it is difficult to form a quorum to conduct inquiry meetings more frequently;

(c) The legislation only allows MCHK to appoint one Legal Adviser who must be present at every inquiry meeting. As a result, only one inquiry meeting can be conducted at one time;

(d) As most of the doctor members of MCHK are engaged in full-time work, it is difficult to schedule inquiry meetings more frequently; and

(e) Only legal officers of the Department of Justice (DoJ) can be present in inquiry meetings under the law and DoJ is prohibited from commissioning outside lawyers to discharge its functions.

     Given the constraints of the existing legislation, it is necessary to amend the MRO in order to expedite PIC investigations and disciplinary inquiries. The time required by MCHK for handling complaints could then be substantially shortened.  

     The Government has set up a Tripartite Platform on Amendments to the MRO which aims to provide a platform to promote understanding and communication among doctors, persons representing patients' and consumers' interests and Members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) on improving the operation of MCHK, as well as to offer views and deliberate on amendment proposals to the MRO. 

     The Tripartite Platform held its first meeting on November 15. Matters discussed at the meeting include the composition of MCHK, the current situation of its complaint investigation and disciplinary inquiry mechanism, as well as major issues and concerns raised by the previous term LegCo Members and the general public over the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016.

     Members also discussed the work plan of the Platform and agreed to meet once a month in the next three months.  The Platform will continue to discuss the complaint investigation and disciplinary inquiry mechanism at the meeting next month, taking reference of the relevant mechanisms of other jurisdictions. Members will then discuss possible amendment proposals to the MRO at the two meetings in January and February next year.

     President, there is a pressing need to amend the MRO. The Government plans to re-introduce the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill into the LegCo as soon as possible in the first half of next year.

Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:55