Hong Kong government considers making pilot dental scheme permanent, undersecretary says
The four-year scheme set up to serve those with intellectual disabilities stopped accepting new patients in February; it’s due to end in August
The Hong Kong government is considering turning a pilot scheme offering dental services for people with intellectual disabilities into a permanent service.
Undersecretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee reaffirmed the government’s general direction on Wednesday during a Legislative Council subcommittee meeting on dental care for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Chan’s remarks came amid concern after the Loving Smiles Service, a four-year pilot scheme which provides dental services to low-income people with intellectual disabilities, stopped accepting new cases in late February. The pilot is set to end in August.
The scheme, which received HK$20 million from the government’s Food and Health Bureau and was operated by the Special Care Dentistry Association, the Loving Smiles Foundation and Evangel Hospital, has served over 1,800 people since its launch in 2013.
“We are not dropping the scheme ... Pilot schemes often become a standing arrangement after they end,” Chan said. “We agree that such a service should carry on.”
While the government pledged to continue subsidising the remaining 1,000 people set to receive dental check-ups under the scheme in the coming year, Chan said they would at the same time review how to implement the measure in the long term.
But lawmakers attending the Legco meeting accused the government of failing to plan for dental care for the underprivileged.
“Can the government give us a blueprint or timetable for when it will add resources for dental care? Now they just ask us to be patient amid a shortage of resources and manpower,” lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu said the new government should thoroughly review the pilot scheme and turn it into a long-term service.
Chan Yat-sum, whose severely mentally handicapped son once had to wait 14 months to receive a general anaesthesia procedure in a public hospital to handle his tooth decay, expressed the hope that the scheme could be maintained.
“I hope dental services designated for intellectually disabled people will continue and be made permanent,” he said.
Sindy Cat Lee Cheung-pui, who has an autistic son, called for the inclusion of special care for intellectually disabled patients in regular training for dentistry students at the University of Hong Kong, which runs the city’s only school offering training in the field.