A panel looking into what caused the violent unrest which has gripped Hong Kong for nearly six months should be given greater powers, to boost its credibility and help its investigation, the city’s new hospitals chief has said.
Henry Fan Hung-ling, who met the media for the first time on Thursday after taking over as chairman of the Hospital Authority this week, also revealed that at least 17 overseas-trained doctors offered jobs in public hospitals this year declined the posts, adding that he believed the refusals were related to the anti-government protests.
The veteran businessman and former executive councillor said he hoped to form a task force within the authority’s board to look into the sustainability of the public health care system.
Commenting on the protests, Fan, who is the older brother of current executive councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, said he welcomed the government’s plan to form a committee to look into the underlying causes of the protests.
He said “political problems had to solved by political means”, but the committee should be formed under the Commission of Inquiry Ordinance.
“That would then give statutory position to the committee, which would then enable the committee to call witnesses. Witnesses giving evidence before the committee would also be protected from civil or criminal actions,” Fan said.
“Without this statutory power, firstly it would be difficult for the committee to work; secondly there would also be a problem with its credibility,” he said, adding that the investigation would not be able to avoid looking into police operations.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said last week that an independent review committee would look into the causes of the recent crisis. But protesters were unimpressed, demanding a commission of inquiry that would also investigate alleged police brutality during protests.
Fan’s eyes welled up as he recalled some A&E doctors telling him about when they treated severely injured young protesters.
“They told me how they have seen [those young people] seriously beaten up. I really sympathised with them, but as I’m part of the Hospital Authority, I cannot show any political stance,” he said.
Fan said his heart ached when he saw youngsters being arrested, and what Hong Kong has turned into in the past few months.
The anti-government protests have prompted health care staff to hold rallies in public hospitals, airing dissatisfaction at police conduct, among other grievances. Fan urged workers not to hold rallies in public hospitals, saying the authority should not show any political stance.
“Some patients who have different political views might feel uncomfortable [when seeing the rallies],” he said. “They might also worry about whether health care staff who have different political views would treat them properly.”
Fan said he believed recent unrest might have deterred some foreign-trained doctors from joining the authority. This year, among 36 overseas doctors offered jobs in public hospitals, 17 had declined, he said. The authority was still awaiting replies from the other 19.
A source from the authority said there had been “very few” such refusals previously.
On his upcoming work with the authority, whose board he joined in December last year, Fan said he hoped the task force he pushed for would be able to improve the sustainability of the public health care system.
“Unless we have a system which would allow our public health system to be sustainable, sooner or later we’ll run into trouble,” he said, adding that the task force would look into ways to retain manpower and reduce waiting times, among other things.
He said he would officially propose forming such task force at a board meeting on December 19.
Staffing is a long-standing problem at public hospitals, with less urgent patients waiting months to see a doctor at specialist outpatient clinics.
If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business.