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LCQ10: Provision of clinical psychological services

     Following is a question by Hon Mrs Regiona Ip and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (January 27):


     Currently, there are five Clinical Psychology Units (CPUs) under the administration of the Clinical Psychological Service Branch of the Social Welfare Department (SWD), which provide various types of psychological services (including psychological and intellectual assessment, psychotherapy, etc) to help individuals in mental, emotional or psychological distress to overcome their crises and problems. According to the information on the SWD web site, members of the public who wish to seek clinical psychological services may visit the Integrated Family Services Centres (IFSCs) under SWD in the districts where they live or call the Departmental Hotline for registration. After conducting initial screening and counselling for people seeking assistance, the social worker on duty may refer their cases to CPUs for follow-up or treatment if necessary. Besides, some non-profit-making organisations also provide paid psychological counselling services. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of requests for assistance received from people in distress by SWD in each year between 2011 and 2015 and, among such requests, the percentage of those requests which were referred to CPUs, as well as the average and median waiting time of new cases of CPUs;

(2) of the specific criteria adopted, by the social workers on duty at IFSCs when they conduct the initial screening and counselling for people seeking assistance, for deciding whether the cases should be referred to CPUs for follow-up or treatment;

(3) whether the reception duties at the IFSC registry and the call answering duties for the Departmental Hotline are all undertaken by registered social workers; if not, given that the psychological state of people in distress is more sensitive and fragile as well as less stable than that of ordinary people, and that they are apprehensive of being labelled as patients with mental illness, whether SWD will consider arranging registered social workers to undertake such duties to provide people seeking assistance with services which are more professional in nature; if SWD will not, of the reasons for that;

(4) given that incidents of students committing suicide due to study pressures or other distress have occurred from time to time in recent years, whether SWD has deployed staff members to regularly visit various universities as well as secondary and primary schools to impart to students the importance of mental health awareness, and whether SWD has actively reached out to students showing signs of distress for early identification and handling of the cases; if SWD has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) given that quite a number of working persons face tremendous work pressure, whether SWD has regularly collaborated with public and private organisations to conduct briefings for working persons on the importance of mental health awareness, and whether SWD has actively reached out to working persons showing signs of distress for early identification and handling of the cases; if SWD has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) as I have learnt that the psychological counselling services provided by some non-profit-making organisations are expensive (e.g. the services provided by experienced registered social workers and clinical psychologists are charged at $600 to $900 and $1,500 per hour respectively), which are beyond the affordability of the general public, whether the Government will consider providing subsidy to non-profit-making organisations with a view to lowering the fees for such services; if it will not, of the reasons for that?



     In consultation with the Education Bureau (EDB) and the Food and Health Bureau, my reply to the six parts of the question raised by Hon Mrs Regina IP is as follows:

(1) The number of treatment cases handled by the Clinical Psychological Service Branch of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) each year from 2011-12 to 2015-16 (up to December 31, 2015) is listed in Annex 1.

     The average waiting time of new cases of SWD's Clinical Psychological Service Branch each year from 2012-13 to 2015-16 (up to December 31, 2015) is listed in Annex 2.

     SWD does not keep statistics on the median waiting time of new cases of the Clinical Psychological Service Branch or the average waiting time of new cases before 2012-13.

(2) and (3) The 65 Integrated Family Service Centres and the two Integrated Services Centres operated by SWD and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over the territory provide preventive, supportive and remedial family services to individuals and families in need, including persons seeking clinical psychological service and their families. All the staff manning the reception counters of the Centres have received relevant training and coaching, and will arrange social workers to interview the persons in need of assistance. Social workers will conduct preliminary assessment of the persons concerned with difficulties in emotion, behaviour, family/social relationship, employment/study, financial condition, etc as well as their welfare needs, and provide appropriate services. For cases assessed to be in need of clinical psychological assessment or treatment, social workers will refer the persons concerned to SWD's Clinical Psychological Units for follow-up. Enquiries received through SWD's Hotline Service are answered by registered social workers who will handle the enquiries professionally to gain a preliminary understanding of callers' needs, and refer them to appropriate service units for follow-up on a case-by-case basis.

(4) SWD has implemented the policy of "one school social worker for each secondary school" since the 2000/01 school year through providing recurrent subvention to 34 NGOs with a view to enhancing support for students. School social workers have been collaborating closely with schools and disciplinary and guidance teachers to understand students' needs, as well as helping students with difficulties in academic, social or emotional development to solve problems, including enhancing their understanding of emotion and stress management through organising a variety of activities and counselling services. School social workers will also, based on students' needs, make appropriate referrals for clinical psychological services.

     According to EDB's information, elements of health-related learning and life education are featured and covered in various key learning areas/subjects. EDB also collaborates with other Government departments and NGOs to provide counselling according to students' conditions and needs. School professionals (including guidance teachers/personnel, school social workers and educational psychologists) refer students to psychiatrists for diagnosis or medication, if necessary. In addition, schools arrange multi-disciplinary case conferences on a need basis for psychiatrists, medical social workers, educational psychologists and school personnel to jointly discuss appropriate support measures for students. As regards the post-secondary sector, the University Grants Committee-funded institutions have established dedicated units to promote mental health and provide professional counselling and related services to their students; and many self-financing post-secondary institutions also provide similar counselling services to their students.

     Separately, the Department of Health has introduced the Student Health Service (SHS) since the 1995/96 school year, arranging annual check-ups (which include examination related to psychological health and behaviour etc) for primary and secondary school students at student health service centres. Students in need are referred to the special assessment centre, specialist clinics (including psychiatric clinics), schools or other social welfare organisations for detailed assessment and follow-up. Under the SHS, an outreach service to schools has been implemented since the 2001/02 school year to strengthen and consolidate the psychosocial health of secondary school students. Through professionals such as doctors, nurses, dieticians, social workers and clinical psychologists, the service provides secondary school students with basic life skills training and topical programmes covering emotional management, communication skills, personal relationships building, management of stress and adverse situations, self-image development, knowledge of ill health effects of alcohol and drug, awareness of adolescents' psychology and behaviour, goal setting, healthy lifestyles, etc. These help adolescents develop positive thinking and attitude towards life and confidently and effectively face changes and challenges.

(5) SWD has been providing subvention to NGOs since October 2010 to operate 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMWs) across the territory to provide discharged mental patients, persons with suspected mental health problems, their families/carers and other residents living in the community with one-stop and district-based community support services ranging from prevention to risk management. In addition to day training, casework counselling, outreaching services, therapeutic and supportive groups, etc, ICCMWs provide mental health education programmes in the community, or in social welfare organisations, schools or work places as needed, to enhance community understanding of mental health. Appropriate follow-up services are also provided to those who are in need of mental health service.

     The Labour Department (LD) and the Occupational Safety and Health Council (OSHC) have issued a variety of promotional publications and information, and have organised various forms of publicity activities (such as sharing sessions and award presentation ceremonies, public talks and workshops) to promote among employers and employees the proper understanding of work pressure and pressure management. Employees suspected to be suffering from mental or emotional problems arising from work pressure may seek consultations at the occupational health clinics of LD. Apart from providing counselling on the prevention and management of work pressure, occupational health doctors and nurses can refer such employees to the Hospital Authority for follow-up if necessary.

     DH will launch a three-year territory-wide public education and publicity campaign on mental health in late January 2016. The objectives of the campaign are to step up public engagement in promoting mental well-being and increase public knowledge and understanding about mental health. The target audience includes adolescents, adults and the elderly, and there are working persons among them.

(6) Apart from providing free clinical psychological service to the public through its Clinical Psychological Service Branch, SWD provides subvention for NGOs' clinical psychological services and these services are provided free of charge. Besides, the Hospital Authority has all along been providing subvented clinical psychological service to the public.

Ends/Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:41


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