More support to upskill nursing sector amidst ageing population

November 23, 2021 06:00
Photo:Tung Wah College

With the rapidly ageing population in Hong Kong and the tendency of early incidence of chronic diseases, it is foreseeable that demands for medical services will surge drastically. Under global technological advancements and heightened awareness towards health-related issues, more training should be offered to practitioners in the nursing sector, care homes and rehabilitation staff to keep abreast with the constant changes in the industry. In addition to increasing the number of local training places, the government should subsidise practitioners for further vocational training to provide optimal medical services in Hong Kong.

The ageing population is a pressing social issue that should not be overlooked. According to government forecast, the elderly population aged over 65 in Hong Kong will increase from 17% in 2016 to 31% in 2030, with a gigantic surge of over one million citizens, meaning that one out of three citizens will be over 65. The increasing number of senior citizens contributes to the rapid rise in chronic diseases and other illnesses, inevitably bringing a heavy burden to the nursing, elderly care and rehabilitation services. The current-term government increased the recurrent expenditure of elderly care services by 85% and that of rehabilitation services also recorded a 66% growth. That said, the manpower shortage currently plaguing the local elderly care and nursing services calls for immediate actions to develop relevant training programs extensively.

Primary healthcare talents in great demand

As the government is committed to developing primary healthcare services and District Health Centres will be set up in the 18 districts, nursing talents will be sorely needed in the community. In recent years, local institutes have been striving to nurture talents to match the development in healthcare services. For instance, the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi) has started a new program entitled Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Nutrition and Healthcare Management since 2021/22 academic year, allowing students having acquired ample experience in medical and rehabilitation organisations to be promoted to the management level. Tung Wah College (TWC) has also been proactively increasing subsidised places for Bachelor in Nursing from 225 in 2018/19 academic year to 350 from 2019/20 onwards. TWC Higher Diploma in Nursing is also funded by the government with 150 places. Moreover, TWC runs a two-year part-time program entitled Diploma in Health Studies. The aforementioned courses put emphasis on community healthcare and treatment of patients to deepen students’ understanding of the role of the medical system in society, such as enhancing public health, promoting health education and disease prevention.

Vocational training for nursing practitioners to be strengthened

In the era of technological transformation, the management of countless small-scale elderly homes in Hong Kong is outdated, pending digitalised management to optimise their operation. With advancements in gerontechnology, it is increasingly prevalent to use robots and high-tech products to serve senior citizens. Meanwhile, caring facilities and rehabilitation centres can make good use of Chinese medicine to improve patients’ health and their diet. Local medical management staff can apply for the postgraduate program offered by the Hong Kong Baptist University – Master of Science in Personal Health Management (Chinese Medicine) to study on a part-time basis. While the government will allocate more resources to elderly care and rehabilitation services, it is of equal importance to focus on enriching practitioners’ knowledge towards healthcare and technology so that the living quality of the old and fragile can be enhanced.

Policy Address 2021 mentions that the government intends to legislate mandatory continuing and professional education for nurses and supplementary medical professions to ensure the professionalism of the medical staff. Our Hong Kong Foundation published a report in September agreeing that it is time to sharpen ourselves with lifelong learning of new skills. The report calls for the government to offer a lifelong skills development grant of HK$100,000 to citizens aged between 18 and 65 to raise their work quality. In an ageing society, training for healthcare practitioners must be strengthened to adapt to the new population composition.

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Managing Editor at Our Hong Kong Foundation.