Chinese medicine is an integral part of the Chinese culture. It has been used for prevention and treatment of diseases as well as health maintenance and has made significant contribution to the health of public. Traditional Chinese medicine has always been playing an important role in Hong Kong’s healthcare system. Many citizens would consult Chinese medicine practitioners and use Chinese medicines.
Chinese medicine has a long history in Hong Kong. Starting from the 80's, society's concern towards Chinese medicine grows and the Hong Kong Government appointed the Working Party on Chinese Medicine in August 1989. The Working Party was tasked to review the practice and use of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong and advise measures that should be taken to promote the proper use and good practice of Chinese medicine. The Working Party submitted a report in October 1994.
Following the Working Party's recommendations, the Hong Kong Government appointed the Preparatory Committee on Chinese Medicine ("The Preparatory Committee") in April 1995 to make recommendations to the government on the promotion, development and regulation of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. During its four years of appointment, the Preparatory Committee conducted a census on Chinese medicine practitioners in Hong Kong; reviewed the use and control of Chinese medicine; and recommended measures for regulation and development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. The Preparatory Committee submitted two reports to the government in March 1997 and March 1999 respectively.
For better protection of public health, the Preparatory Committee recommended a statutory body be set up to regulate the practice, use and trading of Chinese medicine; a system of accreditation and regulation which include registration, examination and discipline of Chinese medicine practitioners be established with transitional arrangements for existing practitioners; and a control mechanism, through systems of registration, licensing and labeling be set up to regulate the manufacture, distribution, retail and import and export of Chinese medicines. Regarding the future development of Chinese medicine, the Preparatory Committee recommended full-time education in Chinese medicine be developed and made available in Hong Kong; scientific researches and developments in Chinese medicine be encouraged and supported; and Chinese medicine be included into Hong Kong's medical and healthcare system on a gradual basis. The public and members from the Chinese medicine profession and the trade of Chinese medicines generally support the Preparatory Committee's recommendations on the direction of development of Chinese medicine.
The policy for the future development of Chinese medicine was enshrined in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Article 138 of the Basic Law provides that "the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall, on its own, formulate policies to develop western and traditional Chinese medicine and to improve medical and health services. Community organizations and individuals may provide various medical and health services in accordance with law."
The Government policy on Chinese medicine was well summarized in the Chief Executive's 1997 and 1998 Policy Address. In the 1997 Policy Address, the Chief Executive stated that "For the protection of public health, we aim to introduce a bill in the next legislative session to establish a statutory framework to recognize the professional status of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners; to assess their professional qualifications; to monitor their standards of practice; and, to regulate the use, manufacture and sale of Chinese medicine. The establishment of a sound regulatory system will lay a solid foundation for the future development of traditional Chinese medicine within our overall medical care system. I strongly believe that Hong Kong has the potential to develop over time into an international centre for the manufacture and trading of Chinese medicine, for research, information and training in the use of Chinese medicine, and for the promotion of this approach to medical care."
The Secretary for Food and Health conducted a public consultation on the development of Chinese medicine in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in November 1997 to solicit public opinions. Based on the Preparatory Committee's recommendations and public views collected in the consultation, the Chinese Medicine Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council in February 1999 and was passed in July the same year.
The Chinese Medicine Ordinance provides for the setting up of the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong ("The Council"). This statutory regulatory body comprises practising Chinese medicine practitioners, members of the trade of Chinese medicines, academics, lay persons and government officials. The Council was established in September 1999 and is responsible for implementing the regulatory measures for Chinese medicine. For regulation of Chinese medicine practitioners, the Council has started work on the registration of Chinese medicine practitioners under the transitional arrangements and is formulating detailed measures on the examination and discipline of Chinese medicine practitioners. For Chinese medicines, upon completion of relevant subsidiary legislations, the Council will implement the licensing system of Chinese medicines traders and the registration system of proprietary Chinese medicines by phases. The safety, efficacy and quality of proprietary Chinese medicines will be assessed before the products being allowed to be registered. The dispensation, storage and labeling of Chinese herbal medicines will also be regulated.
Meanwhile, three local universities have provided full-time degree courses on Chinese medicine. In the long run, the local education institutions could produce an adequate pool of high calibre professionals to support Hong Kong's development as an international centre for Chinese medicine.
In addition, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is committed to promote Chinese medicine, measures include creation of a network of institutions of high standing for research and development work; development of new drugs for enhancement of the competitiveness of the Chinese medicine industry; and setting up of research funds for support of research in Chinese medicine.
Although the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong is a heavy challenge, with the concerted efforts from the industry, the academia, the community as well as Government, and also through collaboration with its motherland and overseas parties, the development of traditional Chinese medicine in Hong Kong can capitalise on the strength of its heritage. Also, Hong Kong should be able to assume a bridging role and contribute towards the introduction of traditional Chinese medicine into the international arena.