LCQ3: Public healthcare services demand of Hong Kong elderly persons who have moved to Mainland

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (December 4):


     It is learnt that in recent years, quite a number of elderly people who have moved to reside on the Mainland upon retirement choose to return to Hong Kong for medical treatment when they fall ill because they are ineligible for the medical benefits on the Mainland, unable to afford the high medical cost and have more confidence in the quality of the medical services in Hong Kong.  Yet, travelling a long distance to Hong Kong for medical treatment may aggravate their illnesses and has to incur travel expenses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the number of times the elderly persons residing on the Mainland returned to Hong Kong for medical treatment in the past five years, whether it has assessed the demand of such elderly people for medical services in Hong Kong, and whether it has formulated policies to offer support to these elderly people; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether it knows the numbers of registered medical practitioners in Hong Kong who have applied for practising, setting up clinics or establishing hospitals on the Mainland since the mainland authorities implemented the liberalisation measures for the medical sector under the framework of "Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement", as well as the number of such practitioners currently engaged in the relevant practices on the Mainland; whether the authorities have looked into ways to collaborate with medical organisations on the Mainland operated by Hong Kong people to provide medical services there for the Hong Kong elderly persons residing on the Mainland, so as to reduce their need to return to Hong Kong for medical treatment; and

(c) given that some local medical organisations have recently collaborated with mainland medical organisations in providing medical services on the Mainland (e.g. the University of Hong Kong collaborating with the Shenzhen Municipal Government to operate the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital), whether the authorities have considered collaborating with such organisations to implement a pilot scheme to extend the coverage of the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme to medical services on the Mainland, as well as perfecting the policy of "portable welfare benefits" in the long run; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin is as follows:

(a) Under the existing policy, all Hong Kong residents are eligible for the public healthcare services which are heavily subsidised by the Government. The Hospital Authority (HA) and the Department of Health have not compiled statistics specifically on patients who are cross-boundary travellers. Nor have they collected information on whether the elderly patients are residing in the Mainland. As such, figures of elderly persons who reside in the Mainland and return to Hong Kong for medical treatment are not available.

     Nevertheless, in projecting the demand for public healthcare services, the HA takes full account of the needs of all eligible persons, and will not overlook the public healthcare services demand of Hong Kong residents who have moved to the Mainland.  Looking ahead, we will continue to review the demand for various healthcare services and plan service development in the light of demographic growth and changes, medical technology advances, healthcare manpower, etc. to meet the needs of the community.

(b) In terms of sole practice, under the framework of the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), Hong Kong permanent residents who meet the qualifications stipulated in the CEPA may apply to take the Mainland's qualification examination set for three specialties, namely clinical medicine, dental medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. A "medical practitioner's qualification certificate" of the relevant specialty will be issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) to those who have passed the examination. Hong Kong permanent residents with specialist doctor qualification can obtain the Mainland's "medical practitioner's qualification certificate" through accreditation. Besides, the CEPA allows 12 types of statutory healthcare professionals registered in Hong Kong (including medical practitioners, Chinese medicine practitioners and dentists) to provide short-term services in the Mainland. The maximum duration of the licence for short-term practice is three years.  On expiry, the licence for short-term practice is renewable. In other words, medical practitioners who are legally qualified to practise in Hong Kong are not required to take the Mainland's qualification examination for the purpose of short-term practice in the Mainland.  According to the NHFPC, 195 Hong Kong permanent residents had passed the Mainland's qualification examination and 47 Hong Kong specialists had obtained the Mainland's "medical practitioner's qualification certificate" through accreditation as at December 2012. However, we do not have the statistical information on the Hong Kong registered medical practitioners practising in the Mainland through the CEPA arrangements.  

     Regarding the setting up of clinics or hospitals in the Mainland, there were 72 medical institutions established by Hong Kong service suppliers under joint venture or contractual joint venture through the CEPA framework as at December 2012. The eye hospital opened in Shenzhen in March 2013 was the first hospital wholly-owned by Hong Kong residents established through the CEPA.

     On collaboration with Hong Kong-operated healthcare institutions in the Mainland to provide healthcare services for elderly Hong Kong residents residing there, we have to make detailed plans about specific arrangements, work out the technicalities and ensure prudent use of public money.  When appropriate, the Administration will discuss with relevant stakeholders details of any pilot scheme.

(c) In 2009, the Administration launched the Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme to subsidise Hong Kong residents aged 70 or above to use private primary healthcare services.  The annual voucher amount has been gradually increased from the initial $250 to $1,000, and the Scheme will be converted into a recurrent programme in 2014.

     Following the launch of the Guangdong Scheme on October 1, 2013, we are looking into the case for providing portability of Elderly Health Care Vouchers, hence allowing those who choose to reside in the Mainland after retirement to use the vouchers to pay for primary healthcare services provided by designated hospitals and clinics in certain Mainland cities.  The University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital is one of the pilot options to be examined.

Ends/Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:32