Lawmakers say psychiatric services need more resources

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am

Legislators have urged the government to spend more on psychiatric services and draw up a comprehensive mental health policy to cope with an increase in the number of mentally ill patients.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said the government would review its policy from time to time but had no plans for a mental health bureau.

According to the Hospital Authority, public psychiatric specialist clinics handled 130,200 active cases between April 2005 and March last year - a 44.7 per cent rise compared with five years ago. There were more than 600,000 visits to the clinics in the same period.

But there are only 258 psychiatrists and 1,944 psychiatric nurses in the city. 'That means each doctor has to deal with more than 2,300 cases, which is clearly a very heavy burden,' Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said in the Legislative Council yesterday.

Several lawmakers were disappointed that the government had reduced the budget for mental health services from HK$3.25 billion in 2003 to HK$3.13 billion last year, and the Hospital Authority had reduced the number of psychiatric beds from 5,340 in 2000 to 4,666 last year.

'While the number of patients keeps on rising, how come the number of beds has been reduced?' asked Frontier lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing.

The lawmakers passed a motion urging the government to draw up a comprehensive review on mental health policy and upgrade services.

Dr Chow said the government had continued to strengthen mental health care services over the past few years, launching a number of outpatient projects.

He defended the decision to cut the number of beds, saying the Hospital Authority had followed the global trend in switching focus from inpatient services to community and day hospital services.

He said the occupancy rate of psychiatric beds was 77 per cent, so there was room to meet higher demand.

'In fact, Hong Kong is a role model on rehabilitation services to many other Asian countries. Our supportive services of helping recovered mental patients get employed are very successful,' Dr Chow said.