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LCQ8: Elderly health centres

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (June 20):


     The elderly residents in Sham Shui Po have complained about the unduly long waiting time for registering as members of and making physical check-up appointments at the Nam Shan Elderly Health Centre in Sham Shui Po, and similar situations are also very common among the elderly health centres (EHCs) in other districts.  The Department of Health has responded that as the services of EHCs are heavily subsidised, there is a huge demand for such services, and the Department understands how the elderly feel when they have to wait a long time.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:

(a) the Department of Health is identifying suitable locations in the various districts in Hong Kong for setting up EHCs to cater for the medical needs of an ageing population; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(b) the Food and Health Bureau will formulate long-term plans to allocate additional resources to the Department of Health for recruiting more manpower for EHCs and setting up more EHCs; if not, of the reasons for that?



     The Elderly Health Services of the Department of Health (DH) has established 18 Elderly Health Centres (EHCs) in Hong Kong, one in each district, to provide comprehensive primary health care services, including health assessment, physical check-up and curative treatment, to persons aged 65 or above.  The focus of the services is on provision of individual counselling and health education to elders with such health risks as propensity to fall, overweight, insufficient physical activities or unhealthy diet.  As the service charge is very low (the annual membership fee is $110) and is heavily subsidised, there is a huge demand for EHCs' services.

     To shorten the waiting time for EHC membership, EHCs have simplified the questionnaire used for health assessment and streamlined the items and procedures of health assessment for existing members, with a view to allocating additional manpower and resources to meet the needs of elders on the waiting list.  To narrow the gap in waiting time among different EHCs, each EHC provides information on those EHCs with shorter waiting time for enrolment as members.  Elders may choose to apply for membership at these EHCs.  After the implementation of the above measures, the waiting time of elders has been reduced significantly.

     My reply to the two parts of the question is as follows:

(a) With an ageing population, there is an ever increasing demand for primary health care services among elders.  The provision of substantially subsidised primary health care services by EHCs has induced a huge demand for EHCs' services, and EHCs alone cannot meet the health care needs of all elders.  The Government has therefore launched a number of initiatives including implementation of the Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme, and the Seasonal Influenza Vaccination and Pneumococcal Vaccination Programmes, as well as promotion of primary care to assist elders in choosing suitable family doctors, to provide elders with one-stop health services.  Hence, EHCs are not the only providers of health services for elders.

     Furthermore, the main objective of establishing EHCs is to promote the physical well-being of elders.  While physical check-ups may facilitate early detection of diseases, the most effective ways to prevent diseases are to understand their causes, the prevention methods and risk factors, maintain a healthy lifestyle (such as refraining from smoking, keeping a balanced diet, taking exercises regularly, pursuing a normal social life and being positive), and consult doctors when there are symptoms of illnesses.  These prevention methods are more important and cost-effective than physical check-ups.  Hence, another approach of the Elderly Health Services of DH is to provide elders with proper health information by way of production of leaflets, compact discs and books, etc.

     DH is now actively identifying suitable sites for relocation of those EHCs with obsolete equipment and insufficient space so as to improve the environment and services of these centres.

(b) Apart from EHCs, the general out-patient clinics under the Hospital Authority, private medical practitioners and some health centres operated by non-government organisations (NGOs) also provide primary health care services to elders.  At present, promotional and publicity materials on health assessment services offered by NGOs which are reasonably priced are also maintained by each EHC to provide elders with an additional choice.  Under the Elderly Health Services of DH, collaboration with other elderly service providers will continue to be enhanced.  The Government at present has no plan for further expansion of the EHCs' services.

     On the other hand, the Government is planning to launch an Elderly Health Assessment Pilot Programme in collaboration with NGOs, so as to promote preventive care for elders and encourage its provision in the community.  The Government has earmarked a sum of $10 million for providing subvention to interested and qualified NGOs that participate in the Pilot Programme and introducing a voluntary, protocol-based health assessment for elders.  We are now working out the programme details in consultation with potential partners and aim to roll out the Pilot Programme next year.

Ends/Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Issued at HKT 13:30


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