Following is the speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, on the Motion of Thanks in the Legislative Council today (Wednesday):
The Chief Executive spoke of the need for the Government to assist those in our community who face problems and hardship arising from the economic situation affecting Hong Kong. Last week, Honourable Members also spoke on this need in the context of the welfare services. I thank Members for their views. We remain fully committed to providing quality welfare services to meet the needs of the community and in particular to assist individuals who have limited capacities to help themselves. In recognition of this and despite the prevailing economic climate and the consequential fiscal constraints, recurrent public expenditure on welfare services continues to experience substantial growth.
In the current financial year, we will be providing direct welfare service subvention of over $6 billion. This represents an increase in real terms of around 14% over the previous year. Additional resources have been provided for a wide range of welfare services.
To quote a few examples: to better support families in the current climate, we will continue to strength our family and child care services. 29 additional family case workers will be provided to assist families with problems, including single parents and newly arrived families. We will also allocate an additional $10 million over the next 2 years to enhance the problem solving abilities of families and the development of parenting skills. Some Members also referred to the need to provide more child care facilities and I am pleased to report that over 1,800 new places will be provided in the current financial year. In addition, to help the less fortunate in the community, we will provide over 400 additional day and residential places to enhance our rehabilitation programme for the disabled.
Young people are the future of our community, and it is important that we provide a suitable environment to help them develop into responsible and contributing members, and acquire necessary skills during their formative years. We are currently reviewing our priorities in youth related welfare services to ensure that we are using our resources in the most cost-effective manner and are better tailored to the needs of young persons in the current environment. Some of the initiatives include increasing social workers in our schools and better interfacing of school based welfare services with other community services available to assist young people.
Care for the elderly is one of the strategic policy objectives of the Government and in the current economic environment needs particular attention. Our aim is to provide our senior citizens with a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of health and worthiness. We have made very good progress on many fronts.
We believe that it is in the interest of the elderly to assist them to continue to live at home for as long as possible. To this end, our policy objective is to strengthen the provision of community and home care services for the elderly and their families. Following a review, we are now providing strengthened home care services to frail elderly living at home in nine districts.
Recognizing the community's concern over the waiting time for residential care service for the elderly who cannot be cared for at home, we have targetted our efforts at increasing the supply of subsidized residential care places and encouraging private residential care homes to upgrade their service quality. Since April 1997, 3,500 new residential care places have been commissioned, of which 1,200 places have been purchased from the private sector. The average waiting time for subsidized care and attention home places has been reduced from about 30 months in 1997 to 18 months as at July 1999. With implementation of the Enhanced Purchasing Scheme from the private sector and efforts made by the Social Welfare Department (SWD), the service standards and quality of private care homes is improving. By September 1999, a total of 262 private care homes have met the standards required and have been licensed, compared with only 41 in April 1998.
As Hong Kong's economy underwent a period of sharp adjustments, many Hong Kong families have suffered different degrees of financial hardship. For those who face severe hardship and have no other recourse, their last resort is the safety net provided by Government. The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme has continued to provide a safety net, with a provision of $15.5 billion in the current financial year. However, serious concerns have been expressed over the rapid growth in CSSA expenditure, which has grown from about 2% of Government's total recurrent expenditure in the 1980's to about 8% today, approximately 6% of the population are on CSSA.
To ensure the long term sustainability of the CSSA Scheme and that we are targeting the resource to those in our community most in need, it is important that able bodied individuals who are receiving financial assistance should be assisted to return to the workforce. Several Members expressed the same view in their speeches last week. This is indeed the rationale underlying the Support for Self-reliance Scheme which was introduced in June to provide additional assistance to help unemployed CSSA recipients become self-reliant. In the coming year, we will explore what additional support and assistance can be provided to able-bodied CSSA recipients to remove barriers to secure employment.
As we move towards the new Millenium, it is timely to examine whether our services and resources continue to meet the evolving needs of the community in response to the rapidly changing socio-economic circumstance. To this end, we will be exploring with the welfare sector ways of ensuring services are delivered in response to these evolving needs and in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
To assist with this process, we propose to introduce greater flexibility in the way Government subvents Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who provide the vast majority of our welfare services. The adoption of a lump-sum funding mode should go a long-way to assisting NGOs to deliver even more responsive and cost-effective services.
This new flexibility will also help subvented NGOs meet their commitments under the Enhanced Productivity Programme. Here, let me reassure Honourable Members that there will be no reduction in either the quantity or quality of services provided as a result of this Programme. On the contrary, an effectively managed productivity programme will enable us to provide the quantity and quality of services needed by our community in this economic environment. I am aware of the concerns of the Welfare Sector in meeting their targets under the Programme. The Director of Social Welfare and his colleagues will continue to work with Sector representatives to identify ways to achieve the target.
Madam President, I shall now turn to health care. The Consultancy Report on Hong Kong's Health Care System, prepared by the Harvard team, was released for public consultation, and by the end of the consultation period in mid-August of this year, we had received over 2,100 submissions. The recommendations in the Report have given rise to intense debate, and I am grateful to Members of this Council, and the community, for your many useful comments and invaluable insights.
We are analyzing the pros and cons of the different reform initiatives, and will comprehensively address all of the key issues. We look forward to improving further the quality, responsiveness and cost effectiveness of our delivery system through developments in primary health care, better public and private interface, and an enhanced mechanism for quality assurance. On financing, we are examining the merits, appropriateness and practicability of a number of key options. We are considering the future development of Chinese medicine in our health care system.
We aim to issue a document early next year to seek public views and support for our proposed way forward on health care in the new millenium. The document will include recommendations on the long term strategic directions and the steps needed to achieve these. There will also be initiatives for more immediate improvements and changes with a proposed timeframe for implementation.
Thank you, Madam President.
END/Wednesday, October 27, 1999