Authority sets out plans to tackle mental illness

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 3:44am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 3:44am

The Hospital Authority is set to step up mental health services and add more staff as it copes with a record number of patients with mental illness.

Among the measures recommended by an external review is an increase in the number of case managers: medical professionals and social workers who offer personalised and intensive support to many of the 39,000 Hongkongers with severe mental illnesses.

Other recommendations set out in a paper submitted to lawmakers yesterday include extending intensive support to all patients in the first three years after diagnosis, up from 65 per cent now, and making access to new psychiatric drugs easier.

The recommendations come at a time when mental health is in the spotlight after gunman Li Tak-yan shot a neighbour and himself in Kowloon Bay, two years after a court-ordered psychiatric review found that he was suffering emotional problems, but was not mentally ill.

It also comes as the number of people being treated for mental illness rose dramatically. There were 205,000 such patients at the end of last year, the paper said, up from 165,300 in 2009/10.

The authority plans to step up its case management programme, introduced in 2010 to offer intensive support to high-risk patients. It is understood to be looking to reduce the ratio of managers to patients from about one to 55 to one to 50.

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, spokesman for the Patients' Rights Association, welcomed the measures but said they did not go far enough. He said that in Australia, each case manager would deal with only 20 patients.

"These are only piecemeal measures, insufficient to enhance the overall quality of mental health services," Pang said. "It is more important that the government formulate a holistic policy in providing integrated support for mentally ill patients."

A source from the review committee said about 10,000 mental patients were identified as being in high-risk groups and having violent tendencies, but there were too few staff to cope.

"They are like a time-bomb for society," he said. "They need intensive care from case managers to follow up their cases at least once a week. But the case managers are overloaded … how can they … take care of all the cases?"