For years, the underprivileged in Hong Kong have been at the receiving end of an acute shortage of public dental services because they can’t afford to go to private dental clinics.
And for dental patients who come from low-income families and who also happen to be mentally disabled, seeking dental care services and treatment would prove a lot more difficult.
Many mentally disabled individuals need special care when visiting the dentist as they are often easily frightened by strangers (i.e. dentists and dental nurses) and the unfamiliar environment of the dental clinic.
At present, there are only 11 government dental clinics and seven dentistry and orthodontics departments in our public hospitals which provide affordable and emergency dental care services for patients who can’t afford to go to private dentists and patients who need special care such as the mentally disabled.
However, these patients often have to wait up to two or even three years before they can finally be arranged for an appointment at these clinics.
In order to meet the huge public demand for affordable dental services, the Food and Health Bureau launched a joint initiative with the private medical sector known as Loving Smiles Service in August 2013. Under this pilot scheme, the government allocated HK$20 million to subsidize visits by low-income dental patients to participating private clinics over four years.
The scheme has proven highly successful and popular among those in need. Over the years the number of beneficiaries of the scheme has beat expectations and exceeded 2,000, with 1,500 more on the waiting list.
However, as the four-year scheme is due to expire this month, it is said that the government has decided to extend the program for one more year for the benefit of those still on the waiting list, after which the administration will terminate the program for good.
I am deeply concerned about the likely termination of this scheme because once it is gone, the underprivileged will no longer have access to decent and affordable dental care services.
The Food and Health Bureau should ensure that the remaining 1,500 patients on the waiting list will receive treatment according to the schedule.
In the meantime, the administration should review the Loving Smiles Service scheme immediately and, based on its service model and principles, come up with another long-term and proper proposal under which the mentally disabled can continue to have access to decent and affordable dental care services.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 9
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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