Expansion of nursing services under fire

Lawmakers question HK$20 billion plan to pay NGOs to provide beds, saying it lacks specifics and leaves out needy districts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 4:33am

A funding proposal for HK$10 billion to expand the nursing services of NGOs for the elderly and the disabled has come under criticism from lawmakers for a lack of direction, less than a month after Chief Executive Leung Chin-ying hailed the new initiative in his policy address.

Members of the Legislative Council's panel on welfare services were unimpressed by the government's failure to specify the number of new nursing places for the elderly that would be subsidised.

They were also riled by plans to leave out some districts that were facing rapid ageing.

"The non-governmental organisations will be using public resources to expand their services," Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party, who is a social worker, said yesterday. "But we are still not informed whether the new nursing places will address public needs.

"We will not approve the scheme if the government does not table more information."

Cheung's concern was shared by other panel members, who also questioned if the city had enough qualified workers to provide the additional care services.

In September, the Labour and Welfare Bureau put forth the HK$20 billion scheme involving more than 60 projects that would cover in-situ expansion, redevelopments and new developments. It does not cover future operational costs, which are either subsidised by the government or fully financed by the private operators.

The projects are expected to yield a total of 9,000 and 8,000 places - both subsidised and self-financing - for elderly services and rehabilitation respectively.

The bureau is seeking to inject HK$10 billion into the government's Lotteries Fund, which has an estimated balance of about HK$10 billion for 2013-14, to deliver the projects.

Forty welfare organisations had submitted their proposals by the November deadline.

But none cover Sha Tin, Tai Po or Central and Western district, where elderly services are in acute demand.

The lawmakers said the government should have given the NGOs some guidance when it encouraged them to take part.

"We need holistic planning," said panel vice-chairman Peter Cheung Kwok-che, also of the Labour Party. "The government cannot just let the organisations decide on what to provide. It should make better use of the land."

The scheme requires participating groups to increase their services on sites that they own.

In return, the government will help them through the planning procedures and also pay for feasibility studies, relocation of existing occupants and capital costs.

The NGOs will receive other advantages - they do not have to compete with other organisations in an open tender for approval to secure extra floor space. They are also exempted from providing a three-year track record in order to take part.

Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare Annie Tam Kam-lan said that the government would have to negotiate with the organisations involved to see if more subsidised places should be provided.

The panel also urged the bureau to take a look at another pilot scheme, announced in the policy address, that would pay an allowance to the caregivers for elderly people from low-income families.

The scheme was criticised as too "mean", as carers who are already receiving the Old Age Living Allowance are not eligible.