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LCQ2: The Government's dental care services

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):


     The Government launched a three-year pilot project on outreach primary dental care services for the elderly (Pilot Project) in April last year to provide various kinds of free dental care and oral health care services to elderly people in residential care homes or day care centres, and it was expected that 17 non-governmental organisations would participate in the Pilot Project.

     Regarding dental care services for the elderly, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that at present, the Pilot Project only covers dental check-up, scaling and polishing, pain relief and emergency dental treatments, whether the Government will expand the scope of services to include denture-fixing and tooth-filling services, etc.;

(b) given that the Department of Health currently provides pain relief and teeth extraction services to the public through its 11 government dental clinics in the territory, but no such government dental clinic is provided in districts with an ageing population or in densely populated districts, such as Sham Shui Po and Yau Tsim Mong District, etc., hence, quite a number of members of the public need to seek treatment from dental clinics in other districts, and some of them even have to queue up at the clinics in the early hours for consultation chips, whether the Government has any plan at present to set up additional clinics in various districts, so as to alleviate the pressure brought by an ageing population on the provision of dental care services; and

(c) given that it is set out in the Civil Service Regulations that civil servants and pensioners are provided with medical and dental benefits in respect of themselves and their eligible dependants, and there are a number of government dental clinics and orthodontic clinics dedicated to providing services to civil servants in various districts on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon, whether the Government will consider opening up the dental care services in these clinics for use by the elderly?



     The Government's dental care policy seeks to improve oral health and prevent dental diseases through education and promotion, thereby raising public awareness of oral health and facilitating the development of proper oral health habits.  Preventive measures are more effective in improving oral and dental health of the general public and reducing health problems due to dental conditions.  According to a territory-wide oral health survey conducted by the Department of Health (DH) in 2001 in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, the oral health status of the elderly population in Hong Kong compared favourably to that of many developed countries.  For instance, about 9% of the non-institutionalised elderly people aged between 65 and 74 were found teethless, which was far below the percentage recorded for other comparable developed economies such as the United States (26-31%) and Singapore (15-21%).  DH is now conducting another territory-wide oral health survey to keep track of the oral health status of our population.

     Regarding parts (a) and (b) of the question on Hong Kong's dental services, currently primary dental care services in Hong Kong are mainly provided by the private sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Public dental services provided by DH mainly focus on emergency dental services for the public including elderly people.  Free emergency dental services covering treatment of acute dental diseases, prescription for pain relief, treatment of oral abscess and teeth extraction are provided by DH in 11 dental clinics, where dentists would also give professional advice having regard to the individual needs of patients.  Between January and November 2011, an average utilisation rate of 86% was recorded for these clinics providing public dental out-patient services.  Currently there are about 2 200 registered dentists in Hong Kong providing dental services to members of the public, and the Government has no plan to increase emergency dental services.

     To cater for the needs of elderly with financial difficulties, recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) aged 60 or above or medically certified to be disabled or in ill-health are eligible for applying dental grants under the CSSA Scheme to cover expenses of dental treatments received in NGOs or private dental clinics.  Dental treatments covered include scaling, tooth-filling extraction, dentures, crowns, bridges and root canal treatment.  In 2010-11, a total of 9 940 applications of dental grants were awarded.

     Meanwhile, under the Government's Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme, launched in 2009, eligible elders aged 70 or above may also use healthcare vouchers for seeking private dental care services.  A total of 277 dentists have enrolled in the pilot scheme since its inception to provide dental care services to eligible elders.  Starting from January 2012, the annual voucher amount of each eligible elderly person has been increased from $250 to $500; and the elderly may accumulate and use multiple vouchers.

     Elderly residing in residential care homes (RCHEs) or receiving services in day care centres (DCCs) are often prevented from accessing conventional dental care services due to their frail physical conditions.  In view of this, the Government has launched a Pilot Project on Outreach Primary Dental Care Services for the Elderly, in collaboration with NGOs for a period of three years starting from April 2011, to provide them with outreach primary dental care and oral health care services including dental check-up, polishing, pain relief and other emergency dental treatments.  For those in need of follow-up curative treatments, such as denture-fixing or tooth-filling, participating NGOs will provide the necessary treatments and, where necessary, arrange to apply on their behalf for dental grants under the CSSA Scheme or to provide financial assistance to cases in need.

     At present, 13 NGOs have enrolled in the pilot project to provide free dental outreach services to elderly people residing in subvented, contract, self-financing or private RCHEs or receiving care in DCCs.  The participating NGOs also organise on-site talks and seminars for eligible elders and their carers to provide oral health education and promote the importance of oral hygiene. We expect that the pilot project could provide more than 100 000 attendances benefiting some 80 000 elderly people in RCHEs and DCCs. The Government will monitor the implementation of the pilot project and conduct a review on its effectiveness after accumulating experience on its operation.

     Moreover, the Steering Committee on the Community Care Fund has reserved $100 million for implementing a proposed programme to provide financial subsidies on dental services (including dentures) for eligible elderly.  The Medical Sub-committee under it has set up a task group to devise the specifics of the programme, including target beneficiaries, scope and level of assistance, mode of operation, etc, with a view to initiating the programme as soon as possible to provide services to needy elderly.   The Steering Committee on the Community Care Fund will announce details of the programme after they have been finalised.

     Public dental services also include specialist oral maxillofacial surgery and dental treatment provided by the Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and Dental Units of DH in seven public hospitals to in-patients referred by hospitals and patients with special oral health care needs or dental emergency.  The relevant specialist services are open to members of the public through referrals by hospitals and general out-patient clinics under the auspices of the Hospital Authority or any registered dentists or medical practitioners.  The dental clinics in question will arrange appointments for patients according to urgency of their conditions, and those in emergency, such as cases of dental trauma, will be offered immediate consultation and treatment.

     The designated dental clinics and orthodontic clinics under DH mentioned in part (c) of the question are tasked to provide dental services to civil servants/pensioners and their eligible dependents in fulfilment of their conditions of service and as part of the Government's contractual obligations.  Such dental benefits are similar to medical benefits provided by other employers to their employees and do not form part of the public dental services.

     At present, all appointment slots assigned for civil servants/pensioners and their eligible dependents in the government dental clinics have been fully taken up.  Given the utilisation of the consultation time slots, for the time being there is no spare capacity for the government dental clinics to be further opened up for public use.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 16:46


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