Improve care at home for the elderly

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 3:25am

This year's policy address outlines a blueprint for the development of Hong Kong in the next five years. There has been a wide discussion in Hong Kong about the policies, and what concerned me most is the one on elderly care.

A quarter of our population will be 65 or above in 20 years' time. To secure quality care for the elderly and for social stability, a long-term, proactive policy on elderly care is crucial.

Family-oriented care is the preferred care model for most elderly Chinese. In line with this, ageing in place has been the core policy objective of elderly care services in Hong Kong. The policy address reinforces this approach by strengthening community care services, such as the launch of the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly and the increase of day-care places. These initiatives will surely contribute to the development of ageing-in-place services.

The success of ageing in place depends on the attitudes and abilities of family caregivers. Do they have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide holistic care to their elderly family members, especially those with chronic illnesses? Can they handle the complex problems and pressures arising from the caring process? Care for family caregivers is crucial in order that this policy can be successful. The government is expected to invest more efforts and resources in this area.

Although ageing in place is the key approach, the demand for residential care continues to increase. Currently, the waiting time for subsidised residential care services is more than three years. In the policy address, the government has promised to increase the number of subsidised residential care places, and strengthen infirmary and rehabilitative care services for the elders. These are good measures in response to the needs of our society.

Yet the effective delivery of residential care services is contingent on the availability of committed and qualified caregivers. A strategy for long-term manpower planning is crucial to support healthy ageing and elderly services development in Hong Kong. However, this was not given a strong focus in the policy address. In fact, the government has, via University Grants Committee funding, introduced a bachelor's programme in gerontology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong last year. It is expected that, with this programme as a pioneer, the administration will invest more resources in gerontological education to develop a high-quality workforce for elderly care services.

Caregivers, formal and informal, are the cornerstone in the successful implementation of elderly care policies.

Diana Lee, chair professor of nursing, director, Nethersole School of Nursing, Chinese University of Hong Kong