Doing our best for severely disabled

WHATEVER the rights and wrongs of the current policy on the care of severely mentally handicapped children in Hong Kong, being debated in your columns (South China Morning Post, July 24 and August 9), I would like to make the following comments on behalf of the staff at CMC (Caritas Medical Centre) who care for children in our 300-bed Unit for Severely Mentally Handicapped Children.

The staff at CMC care for all the children in the unit, within our existing resources. Many of the children have profound mental and physical handicaps, but we identify and build on existing potential. All children are subject to regular review. There isan on-going programme of activities for those who can take part.

Children are only tube fed if they do not have the muscular co-ordination to swallow for themselves. There is an on-going feeding training programme for those with potential to feed.

A total of 176 children attend special schooling (Lok Yan School at CMC) provided by the Special Education Department, and 38 are below the age of six.

In Hong Kong, CMC has pioneered the use of Conductive Education for severely handicapped children in this age group. At present this class size is 12. We hope to increase these classes if we can identify more resources next year.

Many of these children are also physically frail - at any one time 20-30 patients may not be medically strong enough to participate in a training programme but are being treated for medical problem.

Project Sunshine is a very successful on-going fund-raising campaign for the refurbishment and extension of Wai Yee Block at CMC for use by these patients. Through the efforts of many people there has been widespread publicity and support for this project - to the extent that the project is recognised by a large proportion of the Hong Kong population. The aim is to create a less institutional environment for our patients and build up the rehabilitation facility. We hope that the improved surroundings willbe matched next year by improved staffing levels. The opening of Phase One of the project will take place in November 1993 (Phase Two in 1994).

I will be most happy to welcome both correspondents, Jonathan Chamberlain and Anthony Chan, to visit our Project Sunshine, so that they can see for themselves what we are trying to do now with the goodwill of the staff and with support from many and varied sources.

I fully agree that Hong Kong policy on care for these children must be addressed. My point is that we at CMC are doing our best for them, while at the same time working towards improvement.

DR HELEN TINSLEY Hospital Chief Executive Caritas Medical Centre