Most non-locally trained doctors recruited recently to help ease a manpower crunch in Hong Kong’s public healthcare system are at a junior level, the Hospital Authority’s boss has revealed.
Authority chairman Henry Fan Hung-ling also said some healthcare professionals who were heading to the Greater Bay Area on exchanges would stay there for weeks only due to the serious staff shortages.
Fan, who was giving a rundown on the latest staffing situation in public hospitals following an authority board meeting on Thursday, said the body had issued job offers to 130 non-locally trained doctors, and more than 80 had signed contracts.
While most were recruited in Britain and Australia, where the authority held hiring exercises earlier this year, some were from countries such as Malaysia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Nine arrived in the city in September and had already started working, while another 10 were expected to take up their posts in one to two months.
“Regrettably, we have not been able to hire people with high professional achievements, as they have already established their careers overseas,” Fan said.
“Some recruited doctors could reach the level of associate consultant, but most are resident doctors.”
Most of those recruited were Hongkongers living overseas, he added.
Fan said he was satisfied with the progress of recruitment, and that the authority would continue to look overseas to hire more medical professionals.
While 83 doctors, nurses and Chinese medicine practitioners from the Greater Bay Area had been working in Hong Kong public hospitals since April under an exchange scheme that helped to alleviate manpower issues, Fan revealed that some local practitioners in both Western and Chinese disciplines would soon go to the mainland for training.
“We told the mainland authorities frankly that as we are seriously lacking manpower … our staff can only stay there for a short while, say a few weeks or three months,” he said, noting workers would not be able to spend up to 12 months away from their current roles, unlike their mainland counterparts.
The authority has been tapping different sources to address the long-standing manpower issues.
As of late July, the attrition rate for doctors was 6.9 per cent, a slight drop from 7.1 per cent in late April. The trend also applied to nurses, with the figure falling from 10.9 per cent to 10.3 per cent over the same period.
But Fan said he remained cautious as the figures did not mean the problems were solved, noting a new batch of healthcare professionals often joined in July when graduates left university.
He hoped retirees who were rejoining public hospitals under a specific scheme would be able to pass on their experience to younger professionals.
In 2023-24, 84 per cent of doctors reaching retirement age will stay on at public hospitals. The figure for nurses was 53 per cent.
Separately, Fan said the authority would not accept any more bids for tenders from the contractor that had responsibility for a surgical light that came crashing down in United Christian Hospital in February, before liability issues were settled.
He said the company, Getinge, had been awarded three contracts following the incident, confirming media reports.
“Those three contracts were given based on a standing points mechanism,” he said. “But we also found that inappropriate following media reports.”
He added: “We decided that before claims are settled and explanations from them on how to improve their services, we will not accept tender bidding from this company.”
Meanwhile, the Health Bureau announced that doctors would be given a two-month grace period beyond October 6 to sign up for the Primary Care Directory.
To be eligible to join government-subsidised healthcare programmes, medical practitioners must be listed in the directory.
The bureau said the grace period was set up to “facilitate the adaptation of doctors and their patients to the new arrangement”.
Doctors who are not in the directory by the end of the grace period on December 6 will not be allowed to take part in the subsidised programmes.
A total of 3,337 doctors were listed in the directory at the end of August.