As expected, Hong Kong has in its budget for the 2016/17 financial year earmarked HK$10 billion for the so-called Future Health Care Fund, which will help prepare the city for mounting healthcare spending in the coming years.
I welcome the government’s determination to plan ahead in terms of our healthcare service. However, I am concerned as to whether the Future Health Care Fund could be placing too much emphasis on investment in “hardware” while neglecting investment in the training of personnel.
My concern is this: How can our healthcare service improve if there are not enough doctors and nurses in the future, even though we may have enough hospitals?
Besides, there are some pressing issues in our healthcare service that the budget has failed to address, such as the unreasonable nurse-to-patient ratios in public hospitals, insufficient public mental clinic service and the shortage in dental care service for the elderly.
Meanwhile, I have also noticed that the regular funding for the Hospital Authority (HA) for the coming fiscal year has increased by just 0.1 percent, as opposed to the 3.3 percent increase in the previous fiscal year.
As a result of this drastic cut, the HA might need to tap into its reserve to cover its operating costs, thereby taking a toll on the financial soundness or even the quality of service of the agency.
The government owes the public an explanation as to why it is still trimming the funding increment rate for the HA even though the city has billions of dollars in surplus.
That said, we should still give our financial secretary some credit for increasing funding for the Health Department by 18.1 percent, as compared to only 1.9 percent last year.
I have been pushing for an increase in funding for the Health Department over the years so that the department will be able to enhance its efforts in disease control, promotion of public hygiene and healthy lifestyle. I am glad that my demand has been finally answered in the latest budget.
However, as far as the various healthcare services for the elderly are concerned, such as dental care and care for those suffering from hearing impairment, the budget has failed to allocate sufficient resources to support them.
I urge the government to broaden the scope of the existing Health Care Voucher scheme to subsidize our elderly for dentist visits and for purchase of hearing aids.
With our population continuing to age and demand for public healthcare services mounting, I hope the administration can truly make a long-term and whole-hearted commitment to healthcare and elderly care services in the days ahead so that every citizen can get high-quality public health care.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 4.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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