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Report of Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development released
     The Steering Committee on Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development today (June 14) released its review report and proposed 10 recommendations to lay the foundation for healthcare manpower planning and set out the direction for professional development and regulation of healthcare professionals, with a view to ensuring that there are qualified healthcare professionals to support the healthy and sustainable development of the healthcare system in Hong Kong.

     "In view of the ageing population, the demand for healthcare services by the public has been increasing. For the well-being of the public and the future development of Hong Kong, there is a need for the Government to review, among others, healthcare manpower requirement, training for healthcare professionals, promotion of professional development and improvement of regulatory framework. As such, a steering committee was set up in 2012, with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) being commissioned to provide professional input to and technical support on healthcare manpower projections and professional development and regulation respectively. The healthcare professions and stakeholders had been widely engaged in the process," a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) said.

     For healthcare manpower, according to the outcome of the manpower projection model developed by HKU for the Strategic Review, there is a general shortage of doctors, dentists, dental hygienists, general nurses, occupational therapists (OTs), physiotherapists (PTs), medical laboratory technologists (MLTs), optometrists and radiographers, of which the manpower supply of MLTs and radiographers is projected to be in slight shortage but close to equilibrium while there will be sufficient manpower of OTs under the existing service levels and models after taking into account the 50 annual training places provided by Tung Wah College. The supply of psychiatric nurses, pharmacists, Chinese medicine practitioners and chiropractors is projected to be sufficient to meet the demand given the existing service levels and models.

     "The Government attaches great importance to the training of healthcare professionals. In the past 10 years, the Government has substantially increased the number of University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded healthcare training places by over 50 per cent from about 1 130 to 1 780. The self-financing sector is growing with an annual provision of over 2 400 training places in nursing, medical laboratory science, radiation therapy and occupational therapy. The Government has also subsidised over 500 students studying in qualified self-financing healthcare training programmes under the Study Subsidy Scheme for Designated Professions/Sectors (SSSDP) in the 2017/18 cohort.

     "The Hospital Authority (HA) has launched a pilot scheme to rehire retired healthcare professionals to ease its shortage problem in the short term. However, the healthcare manpower situation is still challenging in light of the increasing demand for healthcare services. The projection results of HKU have provided much-needed evidence for healthcare professional manpower planning," the spokesman said.

     The steering committee considers that if a shortage is likely to persist for a prolonged period, it is necessary to ensure a steady supply of healthcare professionals to serve in the public sector in the short and medium term, while waiting for the long-term measures to take effect. If sufficient manpower is expected for a particular profession, this may not necessarily call for supply adjustment. It may instead give the public sector latitude to plan for service enhancement and/or expansion.

     The steering committee wishes to emphasise that locally trained graduates should be the primary source of supply for healthcare manpower. A suitable mix of UGC-funded and self-financing training places would maintain a steady supply of healthcare professionals, supplemented as necessary by qualified non-local ones through established mechanisms as a short-term measure.

     In order to plan manpower supply properly, the steering committee proposes the following five recommendations:

(1) Publicly funded healthcare training

* The Government should consider increasing the number of UGC-funded training places for those disciplines which will still be facing manpower shortage in the medium to long term.

(2) Self-financing healthcare training

* The Government should make better use of the self-financing sector to help meet part of the increasing demand for healthcare professionals as appropriate, notably nurses, OTs, PTs, MLTs, radiographers and optometrists, and provide the necessary support in terms of infrastructural and funding support.

* The Government should continue to subsidise the pursuit of study in those healthcare disciplines facing manpower shortage as appropriate, in particular in the allied health disciplines, under the SSSDP with a view to sustaining the healthy development of the self-financing tertiary education sector to complement the UGC-funded sector in broadening and diversifying study opportunities.

(3) Healthcare manpower in the public sector

* The HA should make every effort to retain existing healthcare professionals and attract doctors and other healthcare professionals to work in the public sector after retirement, and proactively recruit non-locally trained doctors through limited registration.

(4) Non-locally trained healthcare professionals

* On the premise of preserving professional standards, the boards and councils of healthcare professions should consider suitable adjustments to the current arrangements, including but not limited to those on licensing examinations, internship arrangements, and limited registration where applicable.

* More efforts should be made to promote and publicise the registration arrangements overseas with a targeted and proactive recruitment drive to attract non-locally trained healthcare professionals, many of whom are Hong Kong citizens or have deep roots here, to practise in Hong Kong.

(5) Healthcare manpower planning and projections

* The Government should conduct manpower planning and projections for healthcare professionals once every three years in step with the triennial planning cycle of the UGC.

     Regarding professional development and regulation, CUHK has conducted comprehensive comparison and study on regulation of healthcare professions in 11 jurisdictions. The results show that quite a number of them are reforming the regulation on healthcare professionals, with a common goal of enhancing the protection of public interest. The international trend is to increase the accountability and credibility of the healthcare professional regulatory bodies and increase its lay involvement; require mandatory continuing education for healthcare professionals to sustain their professional standards; and continue to improve the investigatory and disciplinary functions of regulatory bodies so as to reduce conflict of interest, perceived or real, in handling complaints. A number of jurisdictions have set up independent bodies to conduct disciplinary inquiry. Some have also reviewed their initiatives in attracting non-locally trained healthcare graduates to help ease their manpower shortage problem in the short term.

     The steering committee has adopted a holistic and balanced approach in formulating the recommendations in order to strike a balance between upholding professional autonomy and responding to the legitimate calls for more credibility and greater accountability, so that the mutual trust built up by the healthcare professionals through their contribution to society throughout the years can be sustained.

     In order to ensure that professional development and regulation of healthcare professionals in Hong Kong can keep pace with the times, the steering committee makes the following five recommendations:

(1) Lay involvement in boards and councils of healthcare professions

* Boards and councils should ensure meaningful lay involvement by, among others, setting a minimum lay membership of 25 per cent.

(2) Continuing professional education/continuing professional development

* Boards and councils should continue to upkeep the strong professional competency of healthcare professionals through, among others, making continuing professional education and/or continuing professional development a mandatory requirement.

(3) Complaints investigation and disciplinary inquiry mechanism

* Boards and councils concerned should review and, where necessary, improve the mechanism for complaint investigation and disciplinary inquiry, with a view to minimising potential conflict of interest and shortening the duration in processing complaints against malpractice or misconduct.

* The Secretariats of the boards and councils should, where appropriate, strive to provide more user-friendly services by, among others, streamlining the existing administrative procedures.

* Boards and councils concerned should, where appropriate, explore the feasibility of using mediation in handling complaints not involving professional misconduct.

(4) Cost recovery of the operations of the boards and councils

* The Government should improve cost recovery of the operations of the boards and councils.

(5) Regulation of healthcare professions not subject to statutory registration

* An accreditation scheme should be introduced for healthcare professions not subject to statutory registration.

     The spokesman said that the Government would conduct the next manpower projections exercise in consultation with relevant stakeholders and invite boards and councils of various healthcare professions to provide detailed and concrete proposals on how to implement the recommendations proposed in the review. In taking forward the recommendations, due regard will be given to the unique circumstances of each and every profession. The goal is to ensure that the manpower of healthcare professions is able to sustain the development of healthcare services in the long run.

     Chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, the Steering Committee on Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development comprises representatives of healthcare professionals, healthcare service providers, regulatory bodies, academia, the social welfare sector and patient groups. The Strategic Review primarily covers 13 healthcare professions which are subject to statutory registration, namely doctors, dentists and dental hygienists, nurses and midwives, Chinese medicine practitioners, pharmacists, OTs, PTs, MLTs, optometrists, radiographers and chiropractors. The opportunity is also taken to look into healthcare professionals not subject to statutory registration such as speech therapists, clinical psychologists, education psychologists, audiologists and dietitians.

     The review report of the steering committee is available on the FHB's website (www.fhb.gov.hk).
Ends/Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Issued at HKT 13:35
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