LCQ9: Allied health professionals of Hospital Authority

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


    It has been learnt that the Hospital Authority (HA) anticipates that healthcare staff born in the post war baby boom are close to their retirement age and a wave of retirement will emerge in HA.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(a) the number of allied health professionals reaching retirement age in the coming 10 years as anticipated by HA, and list in Annex 1 the respective numbers of staff in allied health grade of various hospital clusters retiring each year;

(b) whether HA anticipates that there will be a sufficient number of experienced allied health professionals by that time to fill those vacancies arising from the retirement of allied health professionals; if so, the details; if not, how the authorities will resolve the relevant problem; and

(c) whether HA will focus on the retirement of experienced allied health professionals one after another and introduce new measures to retain experienced allied health professionals to work for HA; if it will, the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     With an ageing population and advancement in medical technology, there is an increasing demand for healthcare services in the community, and the manpower requirement for healthcare personnel grows commensurately.  We have set up the Steering Committee on Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development, chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health, to conduct a strategic review on healthcare manpower planning and professional development in Hong Kong.  The Steering Committee is tasked to formulate recommendations on how to cope with anticipated demand for healthcare manpower, strengthen professional training and facilitate professional development having regard to the findings of the strategic review, with a view to ensuring the healthy and sustainable development of our healthcare system.  On the training for healthcare professions, with funding approved by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, the Government will, for the three years starting from 2012-13, allocate an addition of $200 million to increase the number of first-year first-degree places in medicine by 100 to 420 per year, nursing by 40 to 630 per year and allied health professional by 146.

     Over the past few years, the Hospital Authority (HA) has adopted a series of measures to address manpower issues.  In 2011-12, HA has recruited 550 additional allied health professionals to meet the service needs.

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

(a) The numbers of allied health professionals (including clinical psychologists, dietitians, medical social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, prosthetist-orthotists, speech therapists, medical technologists, radiographers, radiotherapists, pharmacists and dispensers) reaching retirement age in the coming 10 years as anticipated by HA, broken down by grades, are listed in Annex 2.

(b) HA has always endeavoured to promote the continuing professional development of allied health professionals in order to effectively replenish the loss of professional skills arising from the turnover of allied health professionals.  To tie in with the development of the allied health grades, HA established the Institute of Advanced Allied Health Studies in 2007 to develop structured and long-term training plans for allied health professionals.  It also provides courses on specialist and multi-disciplinary training and personal development, including a three-year in-service training course for new recruits.  HA subsidises allied health professionals to attend short-term courses or internship programmes overseas so that they can draw on the service skills and experience in different countries.  HA also sponsors about 100 allied health professionals each year to undertake degree/master degree courses.  To enhance the clinical skills of serving staff, HA has employed additional allied health professionals in 2011-12 to promote clinical skill enhancement training in the hospital clusters.  In collaboration with local and overseas universities, HA also organises training courses for pharmacy and paediatrics specialties having regard to the service development needs.

     Besides, HA has implemented a new pilot scheme on professional development framework for three specialties in allied health grades (including the musculoskeletal specialty in the physiotherapist grade, the mental health specialty in the occupational therapist grade and the ultrasonography specialty in the diagnostic radiographer grade) since 2008-09.  Three consultant therapist/diagnostician posts and 23 senior therapist/diagnostician posts have also been created.  After a review in 2010-11, the effectiveness of the above scheme was confirmed to be satisfactory.  HA is studying the extension of the scheme to other specialties or allied health grades.

     In general, HA conducts manpower deployment and planning having regard to service development and manpower wastage every year, in order to cope with the service needs.  This includes the filling of vacancies subsequent to the retirement of allied health professionals.

(c) To retain experienced allied health professionals, HA has taken proactive measures to provide them with better career prospects and professional development and improve their working conditions, so as to boost staff morale.  In 2011-12, a total of more than 280 allied health professionals were promoted.  Besides, HA has introduced new employment conditions for three grades (including diagnostic radiographers, radiation therapists and podiatrists), with a view to attracting overseas applicants while strengthening local and overseas recruitment.  In 2010-11, HA extended the overseas training subsidy scheme to cover undergraduate courses on diagnostic radiography.  Since the introduction of the scheme, 25 students have been subsidised.  To enhance training for allied health professionals, HA has recruited additional staff for various grades in 2011-12 to enable more staff to participate in training courses without affecting the daily operation of their departments.  To enhance the work efficiency and occupational safety of allied health professionals, HA has replaced a total of more than 500 medical instruments and equipment in 2011-12 and recruited additional patient care assistants to assist in the daily operation of various departments, so as to alleviate the work pressure on frontline staff.

     In 2012-13, HA will further implement a series of measures to increase allied health manpower and retain talents, including strengthening allied health teams, enhancing the training and development of allied health professionals, conducting overseas recruitment for radiographers, implementing an overseas degree course subsidy scheme for individual grades where the local training places were insufficient to meet the manpower needs (e.g. radiographers and chiropodists), re-engineering work processes and streamlining work procedures, as well as recruiting additional patient care assistants.

Ends/Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:50