Ageing society

Hong Kong will need 48 new elderly care homes every year unless demand is cut now, expert warns

Academic says ‘ageing in place’ – allowing people to stay in their homes and communities – is not a choice but a must

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 9:51am

Hong Kong will need to build close to 50 care homes for the elderly each year in the future unless it acts now to cut demand by providing more community care, a social welfare expert has warned.

Dr Law Chi-kwong, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s department of social work and social administration, said only a dozen subsidised homes would be needed to cater for the fast-greying population if the city could reduce demand by 1 per cent each year.

“If we cannot reduce the current demand rates for subsidised elderly residential care homes, by 2041, each year we would have to build 47 to 48 homes with 100 places each just to meet the annual increase in demand, not mentioning the likely extremely long queues that would have accumulated by that time,” Law said.

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He said the proportion of people aged 85 or above would grow from 2.2 per cent in 2014 to 10.1 by 2064. “This is not sustainable and basically impossible.”

Law, a Democratic Party veteran who is also chairman of the Community Care Fund, said “ageing in place”– a concept to empower elderly people to remain in their homes or a familiar community as long as possible – was not a choice but a must.

The alarming trend, he said, should be taken into consideration in the government’s 2030 Plus blueprint, which outlines the city’s planning and development principles beyond 2030.

Law also pointed to the lack of health care provision for the elderly – an effective way to improve health and thus reduce demand for residential care in future.

Although the Department of Health has an elderly care centre in each of the city’s 18 districts, offering free body checks and disease prevention services, they can serve only 54,000 people in total out of an elderly population of more than one million.

A two-year study commissioned by the Elderly Commission, a government advisory group, earlier called for new urban planning rules. Its suggestions included provision of at least one neighbourhood elderly ­centre in each new or redeveloped public housing estate, as well as in private housing.

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It also called for a district elderly community centre in each new town with a population of 170,000.

Dr Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the commission, said: “We should plug the current gaps in order to provide seamless elderly services to residents.”

Offering more transitional day care for seniors who did not necessarily need be sent to a residential care home could also be an option, he said.

Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung urged the administration to build more neighbourhood day care centres for the elderly and offer greater support to relatives of senior citizens.