New elderly homes code lacks teeth, say critics
Legislators and community groups say revised monitoring rules are insufficient
New measures to strengthen the monitoring of homes for the elderly were far from being enough to improve the poor standards of service, legislators and concern groups said yesterday.
The comments were made after the director of social welfare, Paul Tang Kwok-wai, told Legco's welfare services panel yesterday that more staff would be deployed to conduct frequent inspections at homes.
He said they would strengthen licensing controls and encourage residents and their families to log complaints about poor services.
The department also tabled a revised code of practice for elderly homes, which will take effect from October and includes requirements and guidelines covering such areas as food quality, meal arrangements, bathing skills, nursing and personal care.
But the social welfare head came under fire from lawmakers, who complained that the government's measures were too abstract.
'The policies are far from precise,' said Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who represents the welfare sector. 'The government only says it will strengthen [the monitoring system], but it doesn't precisely say how to do it.'
Apart from licensing controls, inspections and guidelines, Mr Cheung said Hong Kong could follow the example of many western countries and set up an accreditation system.
'The accreditation system would prioritize elderly homes into different grades and performance checks could be done once a year,' he said, adding that a code of practice alone was not enough. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, criticised some of the guidelines in the code.
'It mentions having two shifts of workers in those homes every day, meaning that they still have to work about 11 or 12 hours every day,' Mr Lee said. 'This is not an improvement.'
Fok Tin-man, of the Society for Community Organisation, was also disappointed with the guidelines. She said the revised code of practice only focused on 'hardware' such as premises and fire facilities but ignored 'software' such as staff quality.
Panel chairman Chan Yuen-han said she felt a sense of helplessness in solving the issue.
'I've sat here for 10 years and we discuss this issue every year, but every time we can't solve the problem,' she said. 'I can't see the possibility that we can solve the problem in this meeting.'
She said she would propose the setting up of an individual committee to follow up the issue in the coming panel meeting.
There are 578 private homes and 166 run by non-governmental organisations. The social welfare department received 122 complaints about private homes for the elderly in the first six months of the year, and about 240 complaints are recorded every year.