Educationists and social workers have accused the Government of dragging its feet over action on student suicides. They are demanding the Government strengthen counselling support at schools now rather than waiting for a year-long review to be completed. Seventeen students took their own lives during the 1995-96 school year. This represents a steady rise on the 12 cases in 1993-94, according to Education Department figures. School social workers deal with student problems but there are only 272 for the more than 452,800 students in the territory's 400 secondary schools. The number of new cases handled soared from 5,677 in 1992-93 to 8,323 in 1994-95, but the general ratio of one social worker to 2,000 students, and one to 1,000 in band five schools, remains unchanged. A Social Welfare Department working group set up last November to review the merits of school social workers would not decide on manpower until the end of this year, said a department spokesman. The slow progress shocked the vice-president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, Wong Hak-lim. 'This is obviously a delaying tactic. Almost every related group has voiced concerns over the tight manpower and has supplied detailed studies,' he said. A senior research officer at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Jacky Pang Kin-fu, compared the review to the Garley Building fire investigation launched after 40 people died. 'It took only a short time to carry out the investigation. They must be able to do it quicker if they wanted to,' said Mr Pang. The Hong Kong Council of Social Service's children and youth division officer, Jane Tsuei Pik-shan, said the manpower issue should be separated from other aspects of the review. It would cost about $60 million to give every school a social worker but the amount was only a small portion of Government's reserve, she said. Students were facing more emotional problems now while suicides a decade ago were mainly related to academic results, said Wu Pui-wa, a school social worker supervisor.