Hong Kong's rapidly ageing population poses immense challenges to elderly care services.
The 2011 policy address included a pledge to increase residential care places. This would be done by expanding community care services so more elderly could continue living independent lives in the residence of their choice, and by improving the mode of service delivery to holistically cater for the escalating health and social care needs of older people.
While these initiatives are relevant to Hong Kong's needs, their success depends on the availability of a stable, well-prepared workforce - in terms of quantity and quality.
In our society, professional staff such as doctors, nurses, social workers and physiotherapists are chronically scare, whereas the turnover rate of paraprofessional staff, including semi-skilled and unskilled workers, is usually high.
To cope with this shortage, there is an international trend to prepare academically qualified personnel with tailored gerontological education. Many overseas universities have started bachelor's programmes in gerontology.
Tailored education in gerontology equips these people with: a good knowledge of the health and social care needs of older people; comprehensive skills in service planning and co-ordination; abilities to integrate health and social care in elderly service delivery; a thorough understanding of elderly health care and social welfare policies and service delivery models; insights into elderly service re-engineering and evaluation and an ability to work closely with health care and social welfare professionals.
Overseas experience also reveals that these multi-skilled people will provide a crucial infrastructure to support re-engineering in elderly service delivery.
They can serve as bridges at various health care and social welfare organisations to facilitate inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary collaboration for delivering elderly health and social care using a holistic and one-stop approach.
In Hong Kong, tailored education in gerontology is urgently needed to attract more young people to the profession.
Most importantly, this innovation will align well with the government policy of preparing the workforce for elderly service expansion and re-engineering to offer quality holistic care to our rapidly ageing population.
Professor Diana Lee, director, Nethersole School of Nursing, Chinese University