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LCQ19: Hotline services for carers
     Following is a question by the Hon Stanley Li and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):


     It is learnt that the Government currently does not provide a dedicated hotline service for carers. Carers in need of support services can only call the general enquiry hotline of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) or make telephone enquiries with various service organisations. There are views pointing out that although the SWD hotline operates 24 hours a day, it is not dedicated for carers, and most of the hotlines which are operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) only provide services during office hours, which can hardly support the urgent needs of carers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the utilisation situation of the SWD's hotline service in each of the past three years and since January this year, and set out, by the (i) service target, (ii) nature of the calls and (iii) time of the calls (i.e. morning, afternoon, evening, and late at night to the small hours) in a table, the number of cases received by the hotline;

(2) of the manpower situation of the SWD's hotline service in each of the past three years and since January this year, including the (i) actual staffing establishment and (ii) number of persons on duty;

(3) of the average time taken after receipt of requests for assistance by the SWD hotline to handle such cases and the follow-up procedures;

(4) whether it has reviewed the effectiveness of the SWD's hotline service; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(5) of the measures in place to increase carers' understanding and utilisation rate of the hotline services operated by NGOs?



     My reply to the question raised by the Member is as follows:

(1) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) hotline 2343 2255 provides 24-hour services for the public in need, including (i) enquiry service for information on welfare services; (ii) counselling and consultation services by social workers; and (iii) referral services. The hotline provides information on welfare services to callers instantly through an interactive voice response system.

     The SWD provides counselling and consultation services to the public in need during office hours (i.e. from 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays, and from 9am to noon on Saturdays, excluding public holidays). During non-office hours, the public may choose to transfer their calls to the hotline subvented by the SWD and operated by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (TWGHs) for counselling and consultation by social workers. Social workers from both the SWD and the TWGHs will refer the cases in need of follow-up intervention or welfare services to the concerned service units of the SWD or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

     The number and nature of calls received by the hotline in the past three years and from January to September this year are tabulated below:
Nature of calls 2019 2020 2021 2022 (January to September)
Enquiry for information on welfare services 117 455 163 491 109 525 96 205
Seeking assistance from social workers        
* Office hours 37 671 51 022 43 404 34 654
* Non-office hours 12 280 12 873 13 578 9 709
Total number of calls 167 406 227 386 166 507 140 568

(2) In the past three years and from January this year to the present, the staff establishment and the number of staff generally on duty for the SWD's hotline service is 10, whereas the notional staffing of the TWGHs' hotline and outreaching service team is 12. Under the Lump Sum Grant Subvention System, NGOs can flexibly deploy resources and arrange manpower as appropriate to meet the requirements of the Funding and Service Agreements. The TWGHs will take account of the actual operational need of the hotline to adjust the number of staff on duty.

(3) Upon receiving calls for assistance, the hotline will provide information on welfare services to callers instantly through the interactive voice response system, and social workers will provide immediate counselling, support and consultation services. For callers in need of welfare services or continuous support, social workers manning the hotline will normally make referral within the next working day.

(4) The SWD monitors the performance of services provided by the SWD and subvented services operated by NGOs through the Service Performance Monitoring System (SPMS). Under the SPMS, service units (including those providing hotline services under the SWD and the TWGHs) are required to formulate the Service Quality Standards (SQS) and Output Standards (OS), etc. The SWD will assess and monitor the service performance of service units through their regular reports. In the three years from 2019-20 to 2021-22, the hotline services provided by the SWD and the TWGHs met the SQS and OS. 

(5) To provide comprehensive, updated and easily accessible information for carers of elderly persons and of persons with disabilities, the SWD plans to launch a one-stop information gateway in around end-2023. Apart from information on existing services and community resources provided for elderly persons and persons with disabilities, the information gateway will also contain information on the hotline services provided by other NGOs to encourage carers to seek help whenever needed. Moreover, from 2023-24, the SWD will launch a three-year publicity campaign in collaboration with different stakeholders to organise a series of carer-centric programmes and public education activities, and will strengthen the promotion of hotline services. In addition, the SWD will commission an NGO to set up a designated 24-hour hotline for carers to provide up-to-date information on community support resources, instant consultation and counselling, outreaching, emergency support and referral services. The hotline service is expected to commence operation in the third quarter of 2023.
Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Issued at HKT 11:06
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