And the bureau chief warns of $6 billion being slashed in the next five years Hong Kong's health and welfare allocation faces a $2 billion cut in the next budget ending in 2005, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong said yesterday. In the next five years, $6 billion will be slashed, he added. The health and welfare cuts are sure to spark another public outcry, after revelations that university funding would be reduced by up to 30 per cent between 2005 and 2008. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has asked ministers to slash their budgets to address the deficit. 'The figures are still provisional,' said Dr Yeoh, adding that his bureau was still deciding on where future savings would be made. He has said the budget cuts would not affect the quality of health services in Hong Kong. Cuts in social welfare expenditure - which will be reduced by $1.55 billion in 2004-05 and $1.71 billion in 2005 and beyond - are not included in the proposed budget reductions, he added. Dr Yeoh presides over five departments - food and environmental hygiene, health, social welfare, agriculture, fisheries and conservation, and the government laboratory - as well as the Hospital Authority, with a combined budget of some $70 billion this year. He did not say how the institutions in his bureau would share the $2 billion cut. Of the $70 billion, the health budget took up $3.2 billion; the Hospital Authority received $29 billion; food, health and environment $4.4 billion; and welfare $32 billion this year. Fisheries had $796 million and the government laboratory got $270 million. Meanwhile, Dr Yeoh said the planned Centre for Health Protection - which would act like a disease control agency similar to the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention - would take up about 75 per cent of the Department of Health's functions. A decision on how the plan for setting up the centre would proceed would be made early next year, he added. He said the centre's chief would be someone 'with not only technical know-how, but also leadership and managerial skills'. Dr Yeoh said the person would most likely be appointed from within the Health Department. He refused to comment on the future of Director of Health Lam Ping-yan, who took over from Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun in August. Dr Chan is now a World Health Organisation director in Geneva. 'The bureau and Department of Health will be streamlined when the [disease centre] is set up,' Dr Yeoh's press secretary, Brenda Lee, said yesterday. The advisory committee next month will discuss disease centre plans, which will be presented to a committee tasked with monitoring implementation of the Sars Expert Committee's recommendations.