Lawmakers and the head of the Elderly Commission have urged the government to release details of waiting lists for subsidised places at nursing homes for the elderly after a Post investigation found demand in some districts is greatly oversubscribed.
Legislator Wu Chi-wai of the Democratic Party said that if waiting list details were available to the public it would help elderly people make a more informed decision about where to apply, and it would show private developers where such facilities were most needed.
A document obtained by the Post shows that demand in some of the city's 18 districts is at least three times greater than the number of places available. About 5,000 elderly die every year while on the waiting list for a place in a nursing home.
As of October 31, there were 29,630 elderly people on the waiting list for places at care and attention homes and nursing homes.
Wu, whose Kowloon East constituency has the city's largest elderly population, said: "Disclosure of the data would reduce the mismatch, where elderly are queuing and empty beds are waiting. It's unacceptable to withhold it from the public."
The Social Welfare Department does not release data showing the waiting lists for elderly homes in each district. It only gives the total number of elderly - those aged 65 or above - waiting for a residential care home across the city as a whole.
The city's growing elderly population in the next three decades is expected to make the problem worse.
Welfare minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung rejected Wu's request for the information in the Legislative Council in February, and the welfare department has denied the Post's requests for the data over the past two months.
But the Post did manage to secure the information in a document that was sent to home operators by the department in October. It clearly indicates which locations are most popular and identifies areas facing an acute shortage of homes.
According to the document, Wong Tai Sin, Kwun Tong, Sha Tin and Kwai Tsing have received the most applications for care and attention homes, where nurses and therapists are available. The demand in these four districts is at least three times higher than the number of subsidised places available.
Wong Tai Sin also tops the list in demand for "nursing homes" for weaker elderly people that have doctors available. It is followed by Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong, Kwai Tsing and Northern District, where the demand is also three to four times higher than supply.
The application system allows the elderly to select three options - in various districts and homes - so the number of applications is almost always going to be higher than the total number of elderly seeking a place.
The chairman of the Elderly Commission, Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, said only 10 per cent of subsidised places were vacated each year because an elderly person had died.
"Many elderly can only accept a place far from their homes anyway. The data would be useful to users and service providers," he said.
Lawmaker and social worker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung urged the government to force its various development partners, including the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, the Urban Renewal Authority and the Housing Authority, to set aside a certain proportion of gross floor area for care homes as their projects are often in urban areas and old neighbourhoods.
"We have no idea on what basis and criteria the government would allocate a piece of land for elderly facilities. Supply should be increased extensively to needy areas," Cheung said.
A department spokeswoman said district waiting lists were provided to the Hospital Authority and to the relevant non-governmental organisations every quarter.