HONG KONG'S legislative council last month voted to ease restrictions which would have forced medical students who had graduated overseas to take a further examination before practising in Hong Kong. The council has decided to exempt some overseas graduates from sitting the Hong Kong Universal Licensing Examination (ULE).
But Leong Che-ung, legislative councillor for the medical functional constituency, said the decision spelled doomsday for professional autonomy within the medical profession.
The exemption, carried in a bill proposed by legislative councillor Selina Chow, gives Hong Kong students studying medicine overseas a grace period to register in Hong Kong without sitting the three-part ULE. The bill was passed by an overwhelming majority. Dr Leong was the only council member to vote against it.
Mrs Chow's Medical Registration (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1997 was strongly opposed by the Medical Council of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Medical Association. "The medical council is the statutory body established by the government to determine registration standards, and it has come out strongly to say that we don't want the law amended. The existing law should stand," said Dr Leong. "The public and the Legco (legislative council) do not have the expertise to determine these standards."
Since September, all overseas medical graduates have been required to pass the ULE in order to register to practise in Hong Kong. Previously, medical graduates trained in the UK, Ireland, and certain Commonwealth countries, were eligible for direct registration with the medical council. The legislation has drawn opposition from parents and medical students who opted to study abroad before the bill was passed.
"(They) had been given to understand, when they entered the institutions, that they would not be required to take the exam if they were to return to Hong Kong to practise after graduation," said Mrs Chow. "Overnight, they were robbed of this expectation."
Under the new legislation, still to be enacted, Hong Kong permanent residents who studied at, or graduated from, 38 recognised institutions before September 1996, would be able to return and register to practise up to two years after graduation. The 38 institutes are recognised by Britain's General Medical Council (GMC).
"On what criteria can you say that all these 38 universities will be of the same standard and keep that standard for the next eight years?" said Dr Leong. "According to this bill, Hong Kong will still have to accept the Hong Kong graduates from these institutions even if the GMC withdraws recognition from one of these universities over the next few years. This is as dangerous as signing a blank cheque."
But Mrs Chow said it was time to "make things right now" for these overseas students who had been neglected. She said she was "gravely disappointed" with the attitude of the bodies representing Hong Kong's medical profession.