Healthcare talent exchanges herald dismantling of cross-boundary barriers

Last week, 83 medical workers from Guangdong province arrived in Hong Kong as participants in the Hospital Authority’s Greater Bay Area Healthcare Talents Visiting Programmes.

The arrival of the first batch of healthcare professionals under the visiting program, which includes doctors, specialty nurses, radiographers and three traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, marked the beginning of a series of professional exchanges between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

The visiting program is an initiative launched in the post-pandemic era to ensure necessary exchanges between the medical sectors of the two sides, whose different treatments and diagnosis techniques offer valuable experience for each other to draw on.

Hong Kong’s average life expectancy topping the global chart is a manifestation of its world-class healthcare and medical services. As an international metropolis, the city enjoys easy access to cutting-edge medical technologies and the most advanced medical equipment in the world. These advantages, along with a relatively mature healthcare management system, are worth learning from for the mainland’s medical sector.

The mainland’s medical sector also boasts many distinctive advantages. Thanks to its huge population, mainland doctors are exposed to a wider spectrum of diseases and surgical methods than their counterparts in Hong Kong, rendering more knowledge and experience in diagnosis and treatment. By leveraging sophisticated internet technologies, the mainland is also ahead of Hong Kong in the development of smart hospitals, offering convenient online diagnosis and treatment, monitoring inpatients, and dispensing medicines. The increasingly sophisticated technology of minimally invasive surgery on the mainland helps reduce the suffering of patients and shortens postoperative recovery. The popularity of traditional Chinese medicine has, moreover, contributed to the successful experimentation of combined Western and traditional Chinese medical treatments, which takes the best of both worlds in, for example, curbing the spread of COVID-19. These are the valuable experiences Hong Kong can learn from the mainland.

Medical exchanges between Guangdong and Hong Kong can synergize the development of the medical sector on both sides, generating a “one plus one is greater than two” effect that benefits both sides. Two-way exchanges can be gradually implemented in the future so that Hong Kong medical personnel, especially medical students, are given the chance to go for a six-to-12-week medical practice on the mainland, which is expected to yield more benefit than undertaking purely academic exchanges.

The Outline Development Plan of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area proposes “Shaping a Healthy Bay Area”, which entails strengthening the “joint nurturing of and exchanges among medical and healthcare talents, take forward joint consultations on infectious diseases, and encourage medical and healthcare professionals from Hong Kong and Macao to visit the nine PRD (Pearl River Delta) municipalities for academic exchanges and short-term private practice”. It also mentions the need to “step up cooperation in medical and healthcare services”, “deepen cooperation in the field of traditional Chinese medicine”, “study the provision of land-based cross-boundary transfer services for non-emergency and non-critically ill patients”, and “enhance cooperation in food and edible agricultural product safety”.

The said content indicates that the current Healthcare Talents Visiting Programmes is just the beginning of a cross-boundary collaborative initiative that is expected to extend to many other major areas later. To turn the relevant plannings in the Outline Development Plan into reality, it will require major breakthroughs in the alignment of systems and mechanisms, including mutual recognition of professional qualifications of medical staff, common registration, and certification of drugs and medical services.

While matters of medical care, which concern human life and the well-being of society, should be handled with caution, it brooks no delay to remove the barriers for the GBA to become our common home

While matters of medical care, which concern human life and the well-being of society, should be handled with caution, it brooks no delay to remove the barriers for the GBA to become our common home. Currently, there are approximately 500,000 Hong Kong residents living in Guangdong province; the number is set to increase each year as Hong Kong’s elderly-care service providers gradually relocate to Guangdong. How to ensure this huge group of people enjoys Hong Kong medical services on the mainland is a major issue to be tackled.

The exchanges and cooperation between Guangdong’s and Hong Kong’s healthcare sectors give rise to ideas of facilitating similar exchanges in other areas. For instance, Hong Kong may explore the possibility of drawing on the mainland’s experiences in grassroots governance.

Although civil society in Hong Kong is well-developed and covers all social strata, making it convenient for everyone to express their demands, many organizations have little interest in improving livelihoods but in political movements. The politicization of social issues eventually morphs into confrontation that stifles social consensus, as evidenced by the “black-clad” riots and during the pandemic.

As for the mainland, its community governance models in the past and present have always carried the DNA of “consultative democracy”. And the combination of modern-era rule of law and traditional “consultative democracy” has ensured good governance at the grassroots level.

Contrary to what the naysayers suggest, the institutional advantages of the mainland are not beyond reach for Hong Kong. As the principles for community governance are universal, Hong Kong could benefit from engaging in-depth exchanges with Guangdong in the area of community governance.

Nonetheless, it is not easy for Hong Kong to learn from the mainland. Since Hong Kong is more developed than many places in the mainland, some Hong Kong residents, especially those who are still filled with nostalgia for the city’s “past glory”, are so occupied by a sense of superiority and arrogance that they fail to view the mainland objectively.

But we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that the mainland is developing so rapidly that Hong Kong is losing out in many areas. The extremely convenient electronic payment systems popularized in the mainland are a case in point. Another example is the presence of a robust high-end manufacturing industry in the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta respectively, which eclipse the heyday of industrialization of Hong Kong. Hong Kong has indeed much to learn from the mainland in these fields.

During his inspection trip to Hong Kong, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, emphasized that Hong Kong is a big family, whose members should tolerate and assist each other, deliberate on matters related to common interests, work in unison to create a better life, and make Hong Kong the ideal place to live, work, study, play and retire. His words highlight the importance of collaboration and cooperation.

The author is vice-chairman of the Committee on Liaison with Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.