Date
25 April 2018
Our public hospitals are only able to provide hospice care service on a very limited scale. Photo: checkbiotech.org
Our public hospitals are only able to provide hospice care service on a very limited scale. Photo: checkbiotech.org

HK should expedite formulation of hospice care policy

Dying is something every one of us will have to face, but many terminally ill people in Hong Kong have to go through a lot of pain and suffering before they die.

Many old people in the city would prefer to spend the final stage of their life in a familiar environment such as the nursing home or even in their own home in a dignified way.

Unfortunately, the government has failed to come up with any comprehensive plan for hospice and palliative home care for the terminally ill. Our existing policies and laws are inadequate and our healthcare workers are mostly ill-prepared for providing such service.

Indeed, there is an urgent need for the government to formulate a more comprehensive policy on hospice care, divert more resources into this policy field, and enhance public awareness about the benefits of hospice home care.

According to the definition laid down by the World Health Organization, “hospice care” refers to a holistic approach to looking after terminally ill patients so as to minimize their physical and psychological suffering before their inevitable death.

Under proper hospice care, doctors would do their best to alleviate patients’ pain through medication and other means.

A team of trained medical professionals such as specialist nurses and physiotherapists would assist patients with symptom management. Social workers would provide bereavement counseling service for patients as well as their family members.

All of these initiatives are intended to offer terminally ill patients and their family members proper and sufficient medical, emotional as well as spiritual support tailored to their needs and wishes.

Sadly, our public hospitals are only able to provide hospice care service on a very limited scale.

And although some private nursing homes and community organizations are providing a variety of hospice and palliative care services, their services are often small-scale, fragmented and uncoordinated.

To address this issue, I believe the government should divert more resources into formulating a more well-organized and coherent policy on hospice care.

The administration should set up a centralized body to oversee the coordination of hospice care service and provide members of the public with adequate information and assistance so that our senior citizens can choose the most suitable kind of end-of-life care for themselves.

Law changes are also necessary to facilitate the implementation of hospice home care. Under our existing law, a private doctor’s signature is required on a death certificate in order to allow a terminally ill patient to die at home peacefully.

Such red tape is obviously working against the promotion of hospice home care in our city.

Many countries and regions around the world have already developed a good and quality hospice care policy.

In the United Kingdom, for example, hospice service has been incorporated into the country’s national health care system, and is now provided nationwide.

In Taiwan, the parliament passed a bill on terminal care in 2000, under which the authorities have carried out an extensive study on hospice care and launched a massive program to train medical workers and caregivers in hospice and palliative care.

Currently, Taiwan’s health authority is providing terminally ill patients with pain and symptom relief treatments, as well as bereavement support service for their families, so that these patients can go through their final journey of life in a familiar environment in the company of loved ones.

I believe the Hong Kong government should draw insights from the experience of other countries and formulate our own policy on hospice care.

I was glad to learn that the policy address last year proposed to build a better policy and legal framework in order to facilitate the planning of hospice care service.

That said, I strongly urge the government to put forward a set of more detailed policy guidelines on hospice home care and propose necessary legislative changes as soon as possible so as to allow the terminally ill in our city to finish their final journey of life in their own homes according to their wishes.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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