Means test proposed for elderly care
Means-testing should be introduced to screen out better-off senior citizens who apply for subsidised residential care services, the commission said.
Director of Audit Dominic Chan Yin-tat also proposed contracting out the operation of care homes for the elderly, estimating his package could save $1.2 billion a year. But Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, said: 'The Audit Commission is cold-blooded and deserves the strongest condemnation for assessing services from the money point of view.
'I can foresee our senior citizens being dumped on to the streets by their families if the Government continues cutting spending on services for the elderly.'
But Mr Chan noted that spending on elderly services would increase to $2.63 billion in 2009 and $3.73 billion in 2019.
He said Hong Kong should means-test elderly people applying for residential care services, saying it could save the Government up to $269 million a year.
'This sum can be used to subsidise another 175 nursing-home places and 3,711 care and attention home places,' he added.
Mr Chan also recommended allowing private operators to take over more homes for the elderly, which would save $460 million.
The report said a place at a home managed by a government-aided welfare agency cost $8,918 a month, $3,755 higher than at a private care home.
Director of Social Welfare Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned against radical reforms.
'There will be a far-reaching impact if the Government puts up all subsidised homes for tender in one go. Not only will providers of services be affected, but hundreds of employees.'
However, she agreed a means test was 'worthy of support'.
The chairman of the Elderly Commission, Executive Councillor Tam Yiu-chung, also said reforms should be carried out gradually and could not be solely aimed at saving money.
The Audit Commission also criticised the Social Welfare Department for not examining hostels for the elderly as often as required.
Mr Chan found that 657 housing units - seven per cent - provided for the elderly by the Housing Authority had been vacant for more than six months, with 174 of those vacant for more than two years. The loss in rental income amounted to $8 million a year.
The report also recommended restructuring the services of nursing homes, infirmaries and care homes to save $154.8 million a year, and phasing out other homes for the aged to save a further $365.2 million a year.