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A doctor checks on a patient at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital earlier this year.
A doctor checks on a patient at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital earlier this year. Heng Chivoan

Enforcement a concern as health law moves forward

The National Assembly on Friday passed a draft law aimed at tightening regulations on health professionals in Cambodia, with the hope that it will eventually lead to improvements in the country’s oft-maligned health care system, though some expressed scepticism yesterday as to whether the measure would work.

The draft law on the management of health professionals would apply to all those working in the field, said Chheng Kannarath, deputy secretary-general at the Medical Council of Cambodia – the sector’s independent governing body.

It includes prescriptions on the roles of professional councils, principles for health professionals’ fitness to practice, punishment for non-professionals caught practicing, and fines for unregistered or unlicensed practitioners.

The draft law will still have to go to the Senate for approval. “The law will provide solid legal ground necessary for the regulation of practices of health professionals,” Kannarath said.

Those caught operating without a licence will face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to 5 million riel, about $1,250, according to a copy of the draft law. Those whose practices are shuttered by the government and continue to practice could face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to 10 million riel.

But, Kannarath acknowledged, “The key challenge remaining is the capacity and resources of regulators to implement the law.” The individual professional councils, such as the Medical Council, the Dentistry Council and the Nursing Council, would be responsible for developing procedures and guidelines under the law. “The law allows 12 months for the councils to be ready to implement, which is not much time,” prompting some concerns, he said.

Under the draft law, a committee would be established to facilitate its implementation and would receive an unspecified amount of money over five years to do so.

Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann said he didn’t know how much money would be allocated for the implementation, but if it passed, the law would lead to “better services provided by the correct professionals”.

Nonetheless, Sopha Chum, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, remained sceptical yesterday that the ministry would shell out enough to make the law work, saying there are currently “not enough resources to implement” such a law if it were to pass. “Even if the law passed, I think we would see little change,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHENG NIEM

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