We are glad to learn that this year’s policy address included the promotion of primary healthcare with equal emphasis on health management and therapies.
The government pledged to enhance district-based primary healthcare services across the territory. It will allocate around HK$100 million annually to subsidize the operation of the district health centers (DHCs) in Kwai Tsing, and establish more DHCs in other districts.
Starting from 2019-2020 school year, the government will provide free HPV vaccination against cervical cancer for school girls of specific age groups. A government-commissioned study to identify risk factors associated with breast cancer for local women is expected to be completed in the latter half of the next year. Based on the scientific evidence and outcome of the study, the government will determine what type of screening is to be adopted for females of different risk profiles.
I support the government’s resolve to completely ban the importation, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and other new smoking products.
According to the World Health Organization, it is not possible that e-cigarettes are harmless; they contain harmful chemical mixtures and therefore should be banned.
However, I feel compelled to point out that there are still some shortcomings in this year’s policy address.
For example, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged to add 150 places to government-funded undergraduate healthcare-related programs provided by our universities annually, and 1,320 more places in self-funded healthcare-related undergraduate programs in the 2019/20 academic year.
Yet I have serious doubts as to whether these proposed new numbers can truly provide sufficient manpower for our healthcare sector.
Moreover, I am rather disappointed that the policy address failed to lay down long-term human resource planning for our healthcare sector.
In particular, it didn’t address the pressing issue of raising the nurse-to-patient ratio in our public hospitals to 1:6, nor did it propose any pay rise for public healthcare workers and to improve their employment conditions.
As far as the professional development of healthcare workers is concerned, we are delighted to hear that the government has pledged to carry out a study on establishing a statutory registration system for the various healthcare-related professions under the Pilot Accredited Registers Scheme for Healthcare Professions, and on setting up a voluntary registration system for nurses.
However, the policy address didn’t answer calls from the nursing sector for the introduction of directly elected seats into the governing board of the Nursing Council of Hong Kong.
Over the years I have put forward quite a number of suggestions to the government, such as allowing qualified optometrists in the city to directly refer clients to the Hospital Authority services, allowing physiotherapists to offer direct walk-in service without referrals, and introducing chiropractic services into Hong Kong’s public hospitals.
Unfortunately, none of these suggestions was answered in this year’s policy address.
As to mental health services, several initiatives were mentioned in the policy address, such as offering one-stop and district-based mental health support services for former patients and those with suspected mental health problems aged 15 or above in 24 Integrated Community Centers for Mental Wellness (ICCMWs) operated by non-governmental organizations.
The current service available in the ICCMWs will also be extended to secondary school students.
But there was no mention of providing extra manpower support and solid arrangements for these new initiatives.
I believe that in order to cater for the mental health needs of mental patients and students’ mental health, the government must increase the number of psychiatric nurses and community psychiatric nursing services as well as implement the “one school, one nurse” policy.
With regard to the proposal to extend the statutory maternity leave for pregnant employees from 10 weeks to 14 weeks, it is undoubtedly a good policy, and I have already urged the Hospital Authority to enforce it as soon as possible.
All in all, this year’s policy address did put forward quite a number of policy initiatives with a view to improving our public healthcare service.
However, it appears that these proposed measures are still unable to address the fundamental issue that our frontline healthcare workers are completely overwhelmed by the soaring public demand for healthcare services.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 12
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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