While Hong Kong’s latest budget seemed to have focused on financial issues, such as whether to distribute cash-handouts to local residents, finance chief Chan Mo-po also rolled out some incentives that target the elderly and allocate more resources to improve services for them in order to address the sharp growth in the city’s elderly population.
That includes launching a ten-year long development plan to add 3,000 to 4,000 beds in public hospitals. The Hospital Authority would receive a subvention of over HK$60 billion in the current fiscal year, marking the biggest increase in five years.
Meanwhile, the government is planning to add more health centers in all 18 districts in the city, with the first center ready to be set up in Kwai Tsing district later this year. HK$8 billion would be earmarked to increase district facilities, said Chan.
The elderly health-care voucher scheme also saw subsidies increased to HK$5,000 from HK$4,000, while the screening program for those at high risk of colorectal cancer would be extended to cover people aged between 50 to 75.
These are in addition to subsidies for local employers to hire retired seniors, including an on-the-job training allowance of up to HK$4,000 a month; and a four-year long pilot scheme to provide speech therapy services for elderly service providers, a move that would be welcomed by some 22,000 elders suffering from swallowing difficulties or speech impairment.
“The government will try its best to add elderly facilities when building public housing projects,” Chan added, although not many additional details regarding this were unveiled in the budget.
A total of about HK$1.2 billion in recurrent provision and HK$2.2 billion in non-recurrent expenditure were allocated this year for various measures to improve elderly services. The measures would be greatly welcomed by the city, as almost one in three Hong Kong residents will be aged 65 or above by 2041, according to data from the Statiscs Bureau.
However, not everyone is happy with the level of effort the government put in for the elderly. In particular, the accessibility of dentist services to the elderly remained worrying, according to Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung.
At present, public dental services in the city mainly focus on providing emergency procedures as well as special oral care services for inpatients and those with special oral health needs.
In fact, Hong Kong has a much higher numbers of dentists compared with years ago in general, but Cheung noted that the long waiting times and limited access to normal dental check-ups for the elderly remained problematic, as the clinics only had a quota of about 900 places per week.
“If these were enough, the elderly would not need to queue in the early hours of the day for dental services,” Cheung said, adding that the shortage of dentists in the city is “shocking”. Hong Kong has a dentist to population ratio of 1:3021, according to government data in 2017, compared to 1:1,642 in the U.S..
While financial secretary Chan stressed in a recent radio talk show that the seniors could use the Elderly Health Care Voucher scheme for private dental services, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-Kin said not many were willing to spend their vouchers on dentists because the costs would be too high.
“They either find the voucher amount not enough to cover the dental services or worry about not having enough vouchers left to use if they suffer from other health problems,” said Wan.
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