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Budget Speech by the Financial Secretary (13)

Medical and Health Services

127. The Government has been investing substantial resources to enhance the quality of public medical and health services and to keep service charges at a low level.  It is estimated that recurrent expenditure on health will reach around $37 billion in 2010-11, accounting for 16.1 per cent of the recurrent government expenditure.  We have pledged to further increase health expenditure to 17 per cent of the recurrent government expenditure by 2012.  We will make efficient use of the additional funding to improve services and take forward the healthcare reform.

Public Healthcare

128. In my last Budget, I indicated that the recurrent subvention for the Hospital Authority (HA) over the three financial years starting from 2009-10 would be increased by about $870 million each year.  Apart from increasing the recurrent subvention through this arrangement, we will also allocate additional funding to the HA in 2010-11.  Excluding the resources for procuring medical equipment and supplies, the additional funding provided to the HA in the next financial year will be $1.24 billion in total.  The HA will make use of the additional funding to strengthen services, including:

(1) Strengthening the training of nurses to meet service growth and development needs.  It is expected that 1 400 nurses will graduate in 2010, an increase of 40 per cent over 2009, and the number will rise to 2 150 in 2012.  We will also provide a total of 2 350 places in nursing programmes and training in the next two academic years, and 80 places in midwifery training in each of the next four years;

(2) Strengthening the services provided for cancer, cataract and renal patients.  A case management programme on cancer treatment will be introduced for 1 100 patients.  Cataract surgeries will also be increased by about 40 per cent.  For renal patients, the HA will strengthen haemodialysis services and introduce a pilot programme on palliative care;

(3) Incorporating eight drugs into the Hospital Authority Drug Formulary to enhance the efficacy in treating cancer and rare genetic diseases.  The HA will also expand the clinical application of nine drug classes.  It is estimated that a total of 38 200 patients will benefit from these two initiatives each year;

(4) Setting up a specialist centre for joint replacement, which also provides comprehensive post-surgical care and rehabilitation support to patients.  It is expected that the centre can handle 750 additional cases a year, an increase of about 40 per cent;

(5) Implementing various infection control measures to strengthen our preparedness against epidemic diseases such as human swine influenza; and

(6) Improving medication safety in the HA through the newly established Drug Quality Assurance Office.

129. To address citizens' concern about medication safety, the Government will allocate additional funding of about $40 million in the next financial year to enhance the regulation of drugs.  The Food and Health Bureau has recently published its review findings on the regulatory regime of western pharmaceutical products and recommended dozens of improvement measures.  To ensure medication safety and safeguard public health, the Government will propose legislative amendments and explore ways of implementing these measures and providing the necessary resource support.

Healthcare Reform

130. The Working Group on Primary Care chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health has put forward a number of proposals to strengthen primary care services.  These include extending the pilot project for strengthening the support to chronic patients, setting up community health centres or networks, and enhancing primary dental services and oral health promotion programmes, particularly those for the elderly.  I will allocate a total of about $600 million for the next three financial years to implement these proposals.

131. During the Budget consultation period, I heard suggestions to revise the value of health care vouchers under the Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme and to adjust the age limit under the scheme.  The Food and Health Bureau will consider these suggestions in its mid-term review of the pilot scheme later this year.  Subject to the review findings, I will provide the necessary resources.

132. Many people suggested to me that tax deduction should be provided for private medical insurance premium or expenses.  The Government is working out a supplementary healthcare financing option operating on a voluntary participation basis, containing insurance and savings components.  We plan to consult the public on the option this year.  In working out the option, we will consider how to make use of the $50 billion earmarked in the fiscal reserves for implementing the healthcare financing reform, and take into account the suggestion on tax deduction.

Tobacco Control

133. For public health reasons, I increased tobacco duty substantially by 50 per cent last year.  This year I propose to abolish the duty-free concessions on tobacco products for incoming passengers.  To facilitate law enforcement, small amounts of tobacco products for own consumption will be exempted.  The Food and Health Bureau and Customs and Excise Department will announce the details.  This measure will take effect on completion of the legislative process.

134. Studies by the World Health Organization have clearly shown that increasing tobacco duty is an effective means of tobacco control.  I am aware that tobacco duty in Hong Kong currently accounts for only about 60 per cent of the retail prices of cigarettes, some way below the 75 per cent recommended by the World Health Organization.  The retail prices of cigarettes in Hong Kong are also lower than those in some international cities.  The Food and Health Bureau will closely monitor the effectiveness of the various tobacco control measures in the year ahead.  I will consider a phased increase in Hong Kong's tobacco duty based on the Bureau's recommendations.

(To be continued)

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Issued at HKT 12:22


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