Hong Kong and Singapore face worsening dentist shortage
HONG KONG/SINGAPORE: Owing to their growing and ageing populations, Hong Kong and Singapore are at risk of a serious lack of dentists in the years to come, experts have warned. Both are not equipped to meet the changing needs and demands of an increasingly older population with the current numbers of locally trained dentists.
According to a Hong Kong government report due to be released in the next several months, most of the city’s medical professions—including dentistry—will face shortages in the next ten years, the South China Morning Post has reported. Proposing solutions for the predicament, the report’s commission recommends increasing the number of overseas-qualified health staff working in public hospitals under limited registrations, among other measures.
To date, public hospitals in Hong Kong have been allowed to recruit foreign doctors under a registration scheme that is limited to one year. However, owing to stringent conditions that restrict foreigners from working in the private sector, only 12 medical professionals joined via the scheme last year, according to the Post. In order to address the predicted shortage of health care workers, these numbers would have to at least triple and contract terms be extended to attract more doctors, the report’s experts cautioned.
In Singapore, this situation is presently a lived reality in the dental profession. Here, foreign-trained dentists already made up the majority of new dentists registered in recent years. For example, in 2014, only 46 of the 187 newly registered dentists were local graduates, the Straits Times stated in an article.
However, while the integration of foreign-trained dentists into the local workforce may help to ease the shortage in the years to come, it is not the only challenge both cities are facing owing to changing demographics. “With an ageing population, demand for dental services is not only increasing but also changing due to the more complex dental needs of geriatric patients,” Singapore’s Chief Dental Officer Dr Patrick Tseng Seng Kwong said.
There are currently too few dentists specialised in geriatric care to serve the growing needs of the population. In 2014, specialist dentists made up 16.4 per cent of dentists in Singapore, according to figures from the annual Singapore Dental Council report. Consequently, the city-state’s Ministry of Health has started to offer scholarships for postgraduate studies in geriatric and special needs dentistry. Other efforts to improve the situation to this end include the opening of Singapore’s first dental centre functionally designed to cater for the elderly and people with special needs, the Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic, in Outram in June 2016.
With measures such as this, Singapore might well be on its way to improving the situation. In Hong Kong, by contrast, a planned reform of the Medical Council of Hong Kong, a regulatory and statutory body that grants licences to foreign doctors, has already faced substantial opposition. Medical professionals and patients alike have raised concerns that relaxed licensing requirements for mainland and foreign doctors, aimed at making it easier for foreign doctors to practise in the city, could compromise standards. In a recent survey, 78 per cent of 1,003 general public respondents opposed the idea of exempting overseas doctors from local examination to practise in Hong. As for practitioner and Election Committee respondents, 83 and 85 per cent, respectively, opposed the plan.
This is despite the fact that Hong Kong’s public hospitals have been documenting chronic shortages in the medical workforce for years. In 2016, the city’s public clinics were understaffed by 250 doctors and 700 nurses, according to hospital records.