A practical move for our first Chinese medicine hospital

Updated: 2012-08-18 05:39

By Carrie Chan(HK Edition)

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Most people have misread the new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The newly-announced high-powered body to advance development of Chinese medicine is by no means intended to rebuild the Chinese medicine hub in Hong Kong. In fact, the new leader did not make any strategic advances to build a Chinese herbal trade center. What Leung announced earlier this week was an intent to boost the development of the Chinese medical profession and Chinese medical services in the city.

The new government is pragmatic and rational. Past lessons are too bitter and horrifying. The publicly-funded Hong Kong Jockey Club Institute of Chinese Medicine was disbanded last year after standing for a decade. Its closure exposed its poor planning, unclear direction and heavy administrative cost, despite its lavish annual budget of HK$500 million. It also revealed the lack of commitment and determination among the local Chinese medicine industry to inject heavy investment on scientific research and testing. Although official efforts continue to support a sustainable development of Chinese medicines through the Innovation and Technology Fund, the new ruling team is not convinced it should go for an unattainable goal.

It was sound that Leung selected only feasible and realistic pledges in his comprehensive election platform. Hong Kong has so far registered 6,398 Chinese medicine practitioners. Sixteen Chinese medicine clinics are run by the Hospital Authority serving almost one million people. Three tertiary institutions set up faculties of Chinese medicine to nurture 80 young aspirants for the Chinese medicine profession per year.

It is good timing to develop Chinese medicine in the city. We have established a legal framework for registration of practitioners and breeding grounds for new blood for Chinese medicine. But we need a Chinese medicine hospital. In the short run, it is an effective step forward to alleviate the severe shortage of Western medical manpower. Additionally, an aging population exerts more pressure on our primary care and rehabilitation services. Chinese medicine is instrumental in helping people recover from strokes, cancer and chronic pain like arthritis.

In the long run, it is the first step to developing Chinese medicine by building a greater pool approaching critical mass. It will then expand and flourish. Chinese medicine is well-received by the grassroots of our community. But it has yet to build its professional talent base to meet soaring demands. Negative reporting of fraud and malpractice in the use and prescription of Chinese medicine is prevalent. It is pressing for local Chinese medical practitioners to upgrade themselves to be a scientific and evidence-based medical discipline. But they cannot act alone to build up public confidence and raise social recognition by themselves. They are in need of more supportive government policy and direction to develop professionally. The preparatory taskforce is assigned to chart a strategic direction for Chinese medicine development committee.

The government should seek partnership from the Chinese medical profession, Western medical profession, medical schools and the Chinese medicine industry. We also need great support and good advice from mainland Chinese medicine experts. The mission to build the first Chinese medical hospital also requires interdisciplinary policies, good collaboration and coordination of several policy bureaus ranging from land, planning, works, education and health. A feasible and realistic action plan should be figured out to put it into fruition.

We cannot wait for redeveloping Kwong Wah Hospital, in spite of its capacity of providing 50 in-patient beds for integrated Chinese and Western medicine. But the project will take a decade to complete. It is more practical to assist and upgrade an existing medical school of local universities to build the first Chinese medical hospital. In fact, three local universities' schools of Chinese medicine have indicated strong interest in setting up a Chinese medicine hospital.

Not any individual doctor has battered the idea of boosting development of Chinese medicine and responded negatively in public. No traits of protectionism against Chinese medicine have emerged from the local Western medical sector so far. But the government should be sensitive and stay vigilant of sentiments in the medical sector.

The author is a veteran-journalist-turned news commentator.

(HK Edition 08/18/2012 page3)