Regulation and development of Dental Hygienists

22/2/2017

Following is a question by the Professor Hon Joseph Lee and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (February 22):

Question:

     Under the Ancillary Dental Workers (Dental Hygienists) Regulations (Cap 156 sub. leg. B) (the Regulations), the Dental Council of Hong Kong (the Dental Council) is empowered, among other things, to handle matters on the enrolment and regulation of dental hygienists and to maintain a roll of dental hygienists (the roll). Regulation 3 of the Regulations provides that "[a]ny person who holds the United Kingdom Minister of Health's Certificate of Proficiency in Oral Hygiene, or who holds any other certificate or diploma which, in the opinion of the Dental Council, is of an equivalent standard and has been gained following a course of dental training extending over a period of not less than nine months, may apply to the Dental Council for enrolment as a dental hygienist". Regarding the regulation and development of dental hygienists, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the current number of persons across the territory who have fulfilled the qualifications required for enrolment as a dental hygienist as specified in regulation 3 of the Regulations;

(2) as the Dental Council relayed to the authorities in 2013 that it had encountered difficulties in vetting and approving applications for enrolment as dental hygienists because the Certificate of Proficiency in Oral Hygiene programme stated in regulation 3 of the Regulations had ceased to exist for a long time, and that the United Kingdom Minister of Health was unable to provide information relating to the contents and training of that programme, whether the Government will review and amend that provision; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) as some members of the sector have revealed that the Dental Council was unable to get in touch with a dental hygienist who was under complaint as the latter's personal particulars on the roll were outdated, and the complaint was eventually unsettled, whether the Government knows the number of complaints against dental hygienists received by the Dental Council in the past five years, with a breakdown by the contents of the complaints and the outcome of the handling of such complaints, as well as the measures currently put in place by the Dental Council to ensure the accuracy of the information in the roll; and

(4) given that while regulation 6 of the Regulations provides for the scope of dental work that may be undertaken by dental hygienists, some members of the sector have relayed that certain requirements in the provision are unclear and have become obsolete, whether the Government will review and amend that provision; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

     Dental hygienists are regulated under the Ancillary Dental Workers (Dental Hygienists) Regulations (the Regulations)(Cap 156B), which stipulates the regulatory framework of dental hygienists in terms of their enrolment, handling of complaints and scope of work. The Dental Council of Hong Kong (DCHK) is the statutory body responsible for regulating dental hygienists.

     My consolidated reply to the four questions raised by the Professor Hon Joseph Lee is as follows.

(1) and (2) Dental hygienists refer to persons who have met the qualifications prescribed in regulation 3 of the Regulations and are admitted by DCHK for enrolment as dental hygienists. At present, the two-year Higher Diploma programme in Dental Hygiene offered by the HKU SPACE Community College in collaboration with the Prince Philip Dental Hospital is a training course recognised by DCHK. Graduates of the programme are required to enrol with DCHK to be qualified to practise as dental hygienists in Hong Kong. Enrolment applications from holders of other academic qualifications will be assessed by DCHK on an individual basis. As at end January 2017, there were a total of 424 enrolled dental hygienists, amongst which 114 dental hygienists held non-local academic qualifications.

(3) The complaint handling procedures adopted by DCHK for enrolled dental hygienists are largely the same as those for registered dentists. According to the existing procedures of DCHK, the Chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC) will first consider complaints against dental hygienists. Unless it appears to the Chairman that a complaint is frivolous or groundless and should not be proceeded further, the Chairman will refer the case to PIC for consideration. If PIC considers that there is a prima facie case after examining the complaint received as well as the explanation of the dental hygienist being complained of, it will refer the case to DCHK for an inquiry.

     From 2012 to 2016, DCHK received a total of four complaints against dental hygienists. Three of them were about the dental work undertaken by dental hygienists and the other one involved service charges. The PIC Chairman had examined the relevant information and concluded that the four cases were not substantiated to be proceeded further. As a result, all four cases were dismissed.

     In addition, according to regulation 4 of the Regulations, the Registrar shall maintain a roll in which the names and addresses of persons whom DCHK has admitted as dental hygienists shall be recorded. Any enrolled dental hygienist who alters his name or address shall notify the Registrar immediately of any such alteration. The Registrar will update the information in the roll at the earliest instance once notification is received.

     DCHK will follow up on every complaint related to dental hygienists. If DCHK fails to contact the dental hygienist concerned based on the personal information in the roll, DCHK will contact the complainant for further information or the relevant registered dentist for appropriate follow up as necessary.

(4) According to regulation 6 of the Regulations, a dental hygienist must carry out dental work in accordance with the directions of a registered dentist. A dental hygienist only undertakes dental work upon patients who have first been examined by a registered dentist and carries out dental work according to the treatment prescribed by the dentist. The scope of work of a dental hygienist, as stipulated in the Regulations, includes the cleaning and scaling of teeth, exposure of x-ray films orally and giving of advice on matters relating to dental hygiene in accordance with the directions of a registered dentist.

     To ensure the sustainable development of our healthcare system, the Government is conducting a strategic review on healthcare manpower planning and professional development in Hong Kong (the Strategic Review), which aims to formulate recommendations on the ways to meet the projected demand for healthcare manpower and foster professional development. The Strategic Review covers 13 healthcare disciplines which are subject to statutory regulation, including dental hygienists.

     Regarding the regulatory regimes for healthcare professions, the Strategic Review covers the functions of statutory regulatory bodies, complaint investigation and disciplinary inquiry mechanism as well as training and development. The regulation of dental hygienists by DCHK (including scope of work) is included in the Strategic Review.

     The Government has all along been maintaining communication with DCHK on the regulation of dentists and dental hygienists. The Government has earlier received proposals from DCHK on ways to improve the enrolment and regulation of dental hygienists. The Government will also meet with the dental hygienists profession to listen to their views on the manpower planning, professional development and regulation of the profession.

     We expect that the report of the Strategic Review will be published in the first half of 2017. We will take forward its recommendations upon consultation with stakeholders.

Last Updated 2017-2-22