LCQ16: Government dental clinics

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (November 2):
     At present, there are 39 government dental clinics (dental clinics) across the territory, providing dental services mainly for civil servants and eligible persons (including dependents of civil servants and civil servant pensioners), and only 11 of them provide emergency dental services for members of the public (emergency dental clinics).  Quite a number of members of the public have pointed out that the emergency dental services are insufficient to meet public demand and the provision of such services is unevenly distributed across the territory.  As a result, they have to queue up for a very long time for consultation quotas and have to seek treatment in other districts.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the (i) daily quotas and (ii) average usage rates in respect of the services provided for civil servants and eligible persons by each dental clinic;
(2) of the (i) daily quotas and (ii) average usage rates in respect of the emergency dental services provided for members of the public by each emergency dental clinic;
(3) whether it has assessed the instances in which members of the public living in districts without emergency dental clinics (e.g. the Wong Tai Sin district) have received emergency dental services in other districts; if it has, of the details, including the number of cases in the past three years in which emergency dental services were provided by each emergency dental clinic for members of the public who came from other districts to seek treatment;
(4) given that no more than one tooth will be extracted for patients in each consultation session of emergency dental services, whether the authorities will consider allowing patients who need to have several teeth extracted to make appointment for the next consultation session, so as to obviate their need to queue up again for consultation quotas;
(5) whether the authorities will consider expanding the coverage of emergency dental services, so that each of the 18 District Council districts across the territory will have one emergency dental clinic; and
(6) given that dental clinics operate under the Department of Health, whether the authorities will redesignate the Secretary for the Civil Service, in place of the Secretary for Food and Health, as the controlling officer responsible for the expenditure on dental services for civil servants?
     The government dental clinics under the Department of Health (DH) are mainly tasked to provide dental services to civil servants / retired civil servants and their eligible dependants (hereunder referred as eligible persons) in fulfilment of the Government's contractual obligations laid down in their terms of employment.  Such dental benefits are similar to medical benefits provided by other employers to their employees.  However, to meet public demand for emergency dental treatment, the Government provides free emergency dental services to the public through designated sessions in 11 government dental clinics (generally referred as General Public Sessions (GP Sessions)).  My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows.
(1) The government dental clinics provide services to eligible persons by appointment.  As the time for treatment varies according to treatment needs, the government dental clinics have not set daily quota.  In 2015, all the appointment slots of the government dental clinics assigned for the eligible persons had been fully taken up and the average service usage rate of the appointments made by eligible persons was almost 100 per cent.  Coupled with the fact that the government dental clinics have to handle very often unscheduled emergency dental care requests from eligible persons, the service usage rates of these clinics have indeed saturated.
(2) Following are the maximum quota and the average utilisation rate of GP Sessions provided by each government dental clinic in 2015:
Dental clinics with
GP Sessions
Time of operation Maximum quota in each service session Average utilisation rate
Kowloon City Dental Clinic
(GP Sessions has started since September 2, 2013)
Monday (AM) 84 83.8%
Thursday (AM) 42
Kwun Tong Dental Clinic * Wednesday (AM) 84 95.5%
Kennedy Town Community Complex Dental Clinic Monday (AM) 84 75.4%
Friday (AM) 84
Fanling Health Centre Dental Clinic Tuesday (AM) 50 91.9%
Mona Fong Dental Clinic Thursday (PM) 42 93.7%
Tai Po Wong Siu Ching Dental Clinic Thursday (AM) 42 95.4%
Tsuen Wan Dental Clinic / Tsuen Wan Government Offices Dental Clinic # Tuesday (AM) 84 92%
Friday (AM) 84
Yan Oi Dental Clinic Wednesday (AM) 42 98.4%
Yuen Long Jockey Club Dental Clinic Tuesday (AM) 42 93.1%
Friday (AM) 42
Tai O Dental Clinic 2nd Thursday of each month (AM) 32 25.5%
Cheung Chau Dental Clinic 1st Friday of each month (AM) 32 51.6%
* Kwun Tong Jockey Club Dental Clinic has renamed as Kwun Tong Dental Clinic since January 2015.
# Tsuen Wan Dental Clinic was temporarily closed with effect from August 28, 2015 for renovation.  Tsuen Wan Government Offices Dental Clinic has started the GP Sessions since September 1, 2015, until the works at Tsuen Wan Dental Clinic is completed.
(3) Apart from the 11 government dental clinics which have allocated slots for GP Sessions, specialist oral maxillofacial surgery and dental treatment are provided by the Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and Dental Units of the DH in seven public hospitals for the referred in-patients, patients with special oral healthcare needs and dental emergency.  The Hospital Authority (HA) provided dental services in four public hospitals in which referred in-patients, patients with special oral healthcare needs and patients with dental emergency needs can receive oral maxillofacial surgery and specialist dental treatments by the dentists employed by the HA.  Members of the public in need can receive emergency dental services in the above-mentioned government dental clinics or public hospitals.
     If needed, citizens can attend the GP Sessions in the government dental clinics in other districts for emergency dental services.  The DH does not maintain statistics of attending cross-district GP Sessions.
(4) Allowing patients to make appointments for follow-up consultations in the existing service hours of the GP Sessions will reduce the number of discs for distribution, thus reducing the chances of other citizens to use the GP Sessions.
(5) We wish to point out that only a few countries around the world can meet all the dental care needs of their citizens solely with public resources.  Even if they can, the citizens in these countries usually have to bear higher medical insurance cost.  As for Hong Kong, providing comprehensive dental care services to the public will involve substantial financial resources.  For dental care, prevention has more long-lasting benefits than cure.  Not only can effective prevention improve the overall level of oral health among the Hong Kong population, it can also mitigate the society's financial burden in providing expensive and sophisticated dental treatment.  In this regard, the Government has been focusing resources in promotion, education (including Student Dental Care Service) and publicity with a view to raising public awareness of oral hygiene and oral health, as well as encouraging proper oral health habits to improve oral health and prevent oral diseases.
     Apart from promotion, education, publicity and prevention efforts, when allocating limited public resources, the Government has to accord priority to people with special needs, especially elderly with financial difficulties.  As such, the Government has launched a series of initiatives to provide low-income elders with special needs with dental care support, including the Outreach Dental Care Programme, Community Care Fund Elderly Dental Assistance Programme and Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme, etc.  We consider that the above territory-wide yet targeted dental service programmes can allocate limited resources to eligible elders living in different districts in a more effective manner.  Therefore, the Government sees no need to provide GP Sessions in each of the 18 districts of Hong Kong.
(6) As mentioned in the above reply, the government dental clinics under the DH are tasked mainly to provide dental benefits to civil servants / retired civil servants and their eligible dependents in fulfillment of the Government's contractual obligations laid down in their terms of employment.  As such, it is appropriate for the Civil Service Bureau to allocate funding to the government dental clinics.

Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:46