Speech by CS at Gerontech and Innovation Expo cum Summit 2017 (English only) (with photos/video)
Mr Bernard Chan (Chairperson of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service), Chua Hoi-wai (Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service), Mrs Fanny Law (Chairperson of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation), Dr Bernhard Schwartländer (World Health Organization Representative in China), Dr Jane Barratt (Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing), Ms Eleanor Kam (Representative of the New World Group Charity Foundation), Ms Huang Yi (Representative of the China Merchants Charitable Foundation), Mr Leong Cheung (Executive Director of Charities and Community of the Hong Kong Jockey Club), distinguished guests, speakers, ladies and gentlemen, and government colleagues,
Good morning. It is my great pleasure to officiate at the opening of the Gerontech and Innovation Expo cum Summit (GIES). On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government, I would like to extend my warmest welcome to all of you, especially friends and guests coming from the Mainland and other parts of the world.
This is a special time of the year for Hong Kong. In less than two weeks, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR. With the concerted efforts and wisdom of our people, Hong Kong is now a modern metropolis with robust systems, world-class infrastructure, vibrant economic vitality, and diversified but inclusive social culture. We have come a long way to firmly establish ourselves as one of the most competitive cities in the world. The 20th anniversary is a significant milestone. It is a time for us to consolidate our strengths and advantages and chart our course for future developments to optimise new opportunities.
Our senior citizens have contributed much to the success and prosperity that we are enjoying today. Apart from being a major event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the HKSAR, this important event provides a great opportunity for us all to consider how to make Hong Kong a better city for our senior citizens to age well when Hong Kong is becoming an "older" society. The GIES puts together great minds with vision, experience, expertise and commitment in various aspects of elderly services. This three-day event enables participants to engage, learn, inspire and explore from holistic perspectives with a view to finding solutions to advance the well-being of our elderly population through the application of technology and innovations.
To make Hong Kong better prepared for the ageing challenge, we have been engaging the Hong Kong community in active dialogue on wide-ranging issues such as population policy, healthcare financing and retirement protection. Such policy dialogues in recent years have alerted the public to the coming demographic changes. Today one in 6.5 people in Hong Kong is aged 65 or above. In 20 years, it will be about one in three. The population of the "old-old", i.e. those aged 75 or above, will double during the same period, from around 550 000 currently to 1.17 million. Three out of five persons turning 65 today will live to 85 or beyond and two of them to at least 90. Many Hong Kong people will experience periods of retirement that will extend to two or even three decades.
Public perception of the ageing trend has so far focused on the challenges of bridging gaps in social security, medical and social services. No doubt these are the legitimate concerns and challenges that we as a community should address. How prepared we are to support our growing elderly population will define largely the Hong Kong that we are going to see some 20 years down the road.
Care for the elderly has topped the agenda of the incumbent Government. We are firmly committed to improving care for elderly persons and their quality of life, ensuring that they will continue to enjoy a sense of security, a sense of belonging, a feeling of health and worthiness. Our commitment is well illustrated by our annual elderly expenditure. Recurrent government expenditure on elderly persons in social security, healthcare services, long-term care services, etc, reached $73.9 billion in the current financial year, representing around 20 per cent of our total government recurrent expenditure. In other words, for every HK$10 we spend, two dollars go to the elderly. Compared to the elderly expenditure five years ago, this year's expenditure represents a significant increase of almost 76 per cent.
Our elderly policy is to promote active and healthy ageing, underpinned by the twin principles of "ageing-in-place as the core, institutional care as the backup". Ageing in place and at home is the preference of our elderly persons. But ageing in place is not only good social policy. It is also good economics. Adequate and reliable assistance and support for daily living can help our senior citizens living in the community remain active, healthy and independent for as long as possible. This can reduce premature institutionalisation. In Hong Kong, about 6 per cent of our elderly population are living in elderly homes. This figure is high as compared with our neighbours such as Japan, where the rate remains low at about only 3 per cent. There is a need for us to develop home-based or community-based care more aggressively in order to moderate the rate of institutionalisation.
We are currently providing care to 30 000 elderly persons in the comfort of their homes, with a wide range of services including rehabilitation and simple nursing care, meal delivery, personal care and escort. How we can capitalise on technological advancements to increase our capacity in delivering home care to elderly persons is certainly an area that we need to look into in future.
Another 30 000-plus elderly citizens who cannot adequately take care of themselves at home are currently living in subsidised residential care services. Apart from embarking on our regular programme to expand our provision for subsidised places, we introduced the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses through a one-off injection of HK$10 billion in 2014. The Scheme is expected to provide an additional 7 000 residential care places and 2 000 day care services for elderly persons in the coming five to 10 years. Meanwhile, we are finalising a blueprint for the development of elderly services up to 2030. This is done under the leadership of the Eldely Commission Chairman, Dr C C Lam. Early this year, the Government set aside $30 billion to strengthen services for elderly persons arising from the recommendations of this study, amongst other things.
Accessibility of affordable and quality healthcare services is the prime concern of most elderly citizens. From this financial year onwards, we have increased the annual provision for the Hospital Authority for enhancing public healthcare services for elderly patients such as chronic disease management, rehabilitative support and community geriatric assessment for the terminally ill in residential care homes for the elderly. To expand the infrastructural capacity of the public healthcare system, we are pressing ahead with the Ten-year Hospital Development Plan at a total capital cost of HK$200 billion. We have also been tapping into the private healthcare sector to increase our capacity - the eligibility age of the Elderly Health Care Vouchers will be lowered to 65 from 70 next month to provide eligible elderly persons an annual voucher amount of HK$2,000 to use private primary care services.
Doing things the traditional way cannot help us cope with the considerable demands that a growing elderly population will put on our healthcare and social systems. We need innovations. We are making efforts to explore new modes of service delivery to enhance our capacity and better suit the needs of elderly users. We piloted the concept of "money-following-the-user" in the provision of community and residential care. The Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly scheme and the Residential Care Service Voucher for the Elderly put the choice of services back into the hands of the users.
We launched another pilot scheme early this year to integrate social and medical care services for elderly with mild or moderate dementia and their carers in the community. Through the support under this collaborative arrangement, elderly people with dementia can receive care and intervention at an early stage, which would help them stay in the community for as long as possible. We have also provided subsidies to carers of elderly persons to relieve the financial burden of low-income families in care-giving. Support and training services are made available to carers through our district-based elderly centres.
To facilitate active and healthy ageing, we have launched the Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly by phases since 2012 to encourage our senior citizens to stay in touch with the community. Under this Scheme, elderly persons can travel on our public transport such as the Mass Transit Railway, franchised buses, ferries and green minibuses at $2 per trip. This is a hugely popular scheme attracting over 881 000 trips a day by our elderly citizens.
We have also made improvements to our built environment to help elderly persons of different levels of functionalities to move around easily and confidently. Over half of our elderly population are living in public housing, comprising public rental housing and subsidised sale flats. Our new public rental housing projects have adopted universal design to enable tenants to reside in the same unit even at old age or after becoming immobile. For old public rental housing blocks, we would make modifications inside the housing units to meet elderly tenants' special needs. We have installed barrier-free access facilities at public walkways under the Universal Accessibility Programme in various locations across Hong Kong. Eight districts have already been recognised by the World Health Organization as part of its Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities. We are striving to transform more of the remaining 10 districts in Hong Kong to be age-friendly.
Financial security is crucial to elderly persons' peace of mind. As part of our efforts to enhance the multi-pillar retirement protection model, we will further enhance the Old Age Living Allowance, a means-tested monthly allowance for elderly persons aged 65 or above introduced by the Government in April 2013, by adding a higher tier of assistance and relaxing the asset limits to benefit more elderly persons with financial needs. Also, we are introducing new investment tools, such as a pilot Silver Bond scheme and a public life annuity scheme, to help those elderly persons with assets to supplement their retirement income.
Notwithstanding the above efforts, much work remains to be done. Our elderly policy today has been typically defined around discussions of the "old and poor" and "old and disabled". Although this will continue to be appropriate for many older adults, these definitions alone do not allow for the policy innovation necessary to respond to a new generation of older adults. The next generation of the elderly population is expected to be more educated, financially stable and receptive towards technology. As such, we must be prepared to invest and innovate in a wide spectrum of technology solutions for ageing in place to cater for varying elderly profiles and demographics.
We must realise that the elderly, especially those staying alone at home, need to have access to timely care as and when the needs arises. Technology is indeed essential in this unprecedented undertaking. Our senior citizens are not a homogenous group. The power and potential of technology to address the lifestyle preferences and needs of an elderly population, and those who care about them, must be fully and creatively exploited.
Technology does not have to be complex and costly to assist elderly persons to lead independent living. Small measures such as giving kitchen utensils large, easy-to-hold handles and installing grab bars around a bathtub can go a long way. The Internet and smartphones have vastly improved communication between older and younger people. It is not just elderly persons who can benefit from technology. It also helps carers. Technologies are available to help elderly persons stick to medication, diet and exercise plans while others can identify and alert their family members or professionals to potential health problems. Devices can help elderly persons stay safe. Motion and vibration sensors can detect falls, a common cause of disability for elderly persons, and summon help. Technology can open up so many possibilities to improve care for elderly people that have not been thought of before. As technology progresses, the ways in which we can help elderly persons live independent and satisfying lives will only continue to grow.
Over the years, our elderly care sector has been tapping into various funding schemes to modernise their operation with applied technology. These include the HK$1 billion Social Welfare Development Fund to upgrade their IT systems for enhancing organisational management and service delivery. Eligible operators in the private sector can join the Technology Voucher Programme to improve their productivity or upgrade their business process through technological services and solutions. Last month, the Government just launched the HK$500 million Innovation and Technology Fund for Better Living. Welfare NGOs may use the Fund to develop technology-centred projects that bring more convenience, comfort and safety to daily living for elderly persons. While these funding schemes may catalyse the adoption of technologies in the elderly care sector, we want to see the changes happen at a quicker pace and on a broader scale.
To provide a better basis for discussion at the three-day Summit, we have commissioned the Our Hong Kong Foundation to conduct a landscape study on the use of technology in the local elderly care sector. At the moment, I do not intend to go over the study findings as they will be discussed in greater detail in one of the plenary discussions this afternoon. With the benefit of this study, I can see that there are at least three areas where we can put in more effort and attention.
First, we need to build closer collaboration between our universities, research and development centres and our elderly care sector in order to share knowledge, exchange ideas and develop solutions for driving greater diffusion of technology and innovation in elderly care. Such connections are pivotal to ensure that locally developed products are reliable, cost effective and most importantly relevant and human-centric. Directly taking the technology to elderly persons and their carers and telling them to use it will not work. It is pertinent that from the outset and throughout the process of conceptualisation and realisation, the continuous engagement and feedback of various stakeholders are solicited in order for the solutions to be successful. Apart from encouraging more collaboration between our research institutions and the elderly care sector, we should also attract more overseas enterprises to bring into Hong Kong's market their proven technology-based products. As these new technologies are already commercialised, they will also be more affordable for our elderly persons.
Second, the voices of elderly persons as users. Users should be at the centre of the design and development process, and innovations must be tested with the elderly persons who will actually be using the products. Future generations of elderly should be a far more active population and their technological needs can be vastly different from those of recent elderly groups. Elderly persons should play a more active advocacy role in making known their user requirement and driving the adoption of technology to better promote active and healthy ageing. Government departments, NGOs, social enterprises and other stakeholders should make use of the existing community network to allow the voices of elderly persons to be heard.
Thirdly, policy facilitation. As policymakers, we should consider what other public policies should be in place to spur innovation, encourage business investment, and commercialise technology-based products and services that will enhance elderly persons' quality of life, facilitate caregiving and improve service delivery. Moreover, the Government should become a major consumer of technology to enhance quality of care for elderly persons receiving subsidised residential care as well as home care services. The new purpose-built elderly facilities in the pipeline for delivery in the coming five to 10 years are perfect grounds for inclusion of more technological and innovative solutions in service management and operations. On top of current funding schemes, we should also consider whether further incentives should be given to help elderly care operators, including those in the private sector, to test out applied technology and innovations in their services. Good policy must ensure equity. Consideration should therefore be given to developing incentives or subsidies to ensure that low-income elderly persons and their families have access to new technologies.
Ladies and gentlemen, an active and healthy old age is an important part of life that each of us aspires to achieve. Hong Kong must begin today to ensure that one of the greatest achievements of mankind - longevity - does not become one of its greatest problems. Leveraging on the technological power that in part helped us achieve our longer life span will be an important part of how we will live tomorrow.
Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, which have been working closely with us on this event in the past few months. The idea of organising the GIES came into being rather late last year. We are now here to witness its grand opening. This could not have been possible without the dedicated support and contributions from our trustworthy partners. I would also like to thank the New World Group Charity Foundation and the China Merchants Charitable Foundation for their sponsorship of this event. My thanks also go to all the speakers, especially those coming from the Mainland and overseas.
Before I close, may I invite you to spare some time to visit our Expo with over 110 local and overseas exhibitors outside. I made a short tour before I came here. And I must say that seeing is believing - I am absolutely amazed and impressed by the state-of-the-art technology. And I can assure you that the visit will be fascinating and inspiring as really, technology has no limits and no boundary. On that note, thank you very much indeed. I wish you a successful conference in Hong Kong. Thank you.
Ends/Friday, June 16, 2017
Issued at HKT 13:20
Issued at HKT 13:20