LCQ1: Support provided for persons who have recovered from Coronavirus Disease 2019
It is learnt that more than 1.2 million people in Hong Kong have been infected with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Quite a number of patients developed symptoms of "post COVID-19 condition" (commonly known as "long COVID") after recovery, including fatigue, poor memory, difficulty in sleeping, breathlessness and hair loss. Some studies have pointed out that nearly 80 per cent of recovered patients still suffered from at least one long COVID symptom six months after recovery. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has conducted surveys on recovered patients (especially recovered children) to gain an understanding of whether they have developed long COVID symptoms and the impacts of such symptoms on their daily lives; if it has, of the details; if not, whether it will conduct such surveys;
(2) whether it has formulated policies to support recovered patients, including collecting big data for disease analysis, promoting cross-specialty treatment protocols and supporting relevant studies, setting up dedicated clinics, as well as enhancing healthcare personnel's understanding of the relevant symptoms and their training on treatment methods; if so, of the details; if not, whether it will formulate the relevant policies; and
(3) as some recovered patients have indicated that they face enormous psychological and economic pressure, whether the Government has provided psychological counselling and social work services dedicated for recovered patients; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Although the surge in the fifth wave epidemic in Hong Kong earlier this year has clearly been curbed, the Government would not let its guard down. On one hand we will continue to fully implement the strategy of "reducing critical cases, deaths and infections", and on the other hand, draw reference from the experience gained in the fifth wave epidemic and review various anti-epidemic measures to enhance the relevant capabilities. According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO), some COVID-19 patients may continue to experience mid- and long-term effects from the virus, collectively known as "post COVID-19 condition", or "long COVID". The Government strives to provide suitable care and support services for patients recovered from COVID-19, and also supports a number of studies on "long COVID" in order to support the formulation of better policies for assisting recovered patients to receive appropriate care.
In consultation with the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and Hospital Authority (HA), my reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Alice Mak is as follows:
(1) With a view to enhancing our understanding of "long COVID" and complementing future clinical research and development of diagnosis and treatment plans, the HA's Data Collaboration Lab and Data Analytics Platform currently continue to collect relevant health big data from COVID-19 patients. At the same time, the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) have approved funding to support COVID-19 medical research studies. Since April 2020, a total of $545 million has been approved to support 70 COVID-19 related research studies from bench to bedside and at the community level through application of new technologies. These studies address important research areas including transmissibility and infectability of the virus, effective detection and surveillance, prevention strategies of the disease and development of treatments and therapies, and early preparation for Hong Kong in the recovery stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with the HMRF's annual open call for investigator-initiated projects, there are seven studies related to "long COVID", covering physical and mental impact on COVID-19 recovered patients, including physical disorders, cardiopulmonary functions and neuropsychiatric sequelae, as well as enhancement of clinical management and rehabilitation programmes to improve the quality of life of COVID-19 recovered patients.
FHB will continue to duly support research studies relating to "long COVID". At the same time, we will also closely monitor the latest WHO guidelines and relevant scientific evidence on the treatment of "long COVID". Most of the confirmed patients in Hong Kong are infected with the Omicron virus. They have relatively mild or no symptoms after infection. When planning for the monitoring and treatment for "long COVID", we will pay special attention to the impact of the Omicron virus on patients recovered from COVID-19.
(2) The HA has been providing necessary support to COVID-19 patients in need of medical services. Depending on the assessment and opinions of the clinical team, the HA will arrange follow-up consultations for patients recovered from COVID-19 and refer them to receive other rehabilitation services according to their clinical needs, such as rehabilitation and psychological support services of different specialties and allied health services. Paediatricians will continue to arrange suitable treatment and necessary follow-up consultations for paediatric recovered patients according to their clinical situation. As regards researches related to the relevant sequelae experienced by COVID-19 recovered patients, the HA is aware that the University of Hong Kong, the Education University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University are collaborating on a research to examine the impact COVID-19 has on the brain development of children and adolescents. The research team will invite COVID-19 recovered patients to join the clinical research on a voluntary basis.
Chinese medicine (CM) has its advantages in rehabilitation as such treatment may reduce sequelae and the re-positive rate. With the facilitation and support of the FHB, the HA launched in April 2020 the Special CM Out-patient Programme to provide a maximum of 10 free-of-charge sessions of CM general consultation out-patient rehabilitation services to eligible COVID-19 infected patients in according to actual situation, through the CM Clinics cum Training and Research Centres in 18 districts across the city. As at May 30, 2022, over 30 500 recovered patients have joined the programme with over 93 900 consultations conducted. Having regard to the severe impact of the fifth wave of epidemic to residential care homes for the elderly, under the support by the FHB, the HA speedily took the lead in mobilising Chinese Medicine Practitioners (CMPs) to participate in the Chinese Medicine Services for Residential Care Homes for the Elderly (RCHEs) programme through community CM service providers such as universities, the CM sector, CMP associations and non-governmental organisations, etc. Telemedicine or outreach CM services are provided to infected residents of RCHEs under the programme. The service concerned has recently been further expanded to cover CM rehabilitation consultations, such that recovered RCHE residents can receive treatment at the RCHE without the need to travel to clinics. Since the launch of the service in February this year to May 30, over 240 RCHEs have joined the programme, with over 10 300 sessions of consultation conducted.
Furthermore, District Health Centres (DHCs) and DHC Expresses in various districts also provide recovered patients with multi-disciplinary advice and support on post-recovery health management, covering a number of areas such as nutrition and CM preventive care, exercise and training, as well as improving sleep, stress and fatigue, etc.
(3) On the other hand, for persons who have emotional problems or financial difficulties after recovery, or whose families have welfare needs, medical social workers of the SWD stationed in public hospitals and some specialist out-patient clinics will provide assistance based on the specific circumstances of the cases. Medical social workers will provide patients and their families with counselling and support services, assist them to cope with their emotional and livelihood problems arising from illness, trauma or disability, and refer them to suitable rehabilitation services and community resources. Besides, Integrated Family Service Centres/Integrated Services Centres will provide people in need with casework services including counselling and referral for suitable financial assistance, community support and clinical psychological service, etc. Other welfare service units subsidised by the SWD will also provide service users and their carers in need (including patients recovered from COVID-19) with services such as consultation, counselling and referral.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:40
Issued at HKT 12:40