Wong defends pledge on elderly

Louis Won

CLAIMS that there will not be enough money or staff to meet the Governor's pledges to improve the lives of the elderly were rejected yesterday.

The assurance from the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Elizabeth Wong Chien Chi-lien, came amid growing suspicion among legislators that the Government was not equipped to turn Chris Patten's words into deeds.

Legislators asked whether the waiting time for the elderly to be admitted to nursing homes could be significantly shortened.

United Democrat Albert Chan Wai-yip asked Mrs Wong what would be the average waiting time as demand for the services of infirmaries and nursing homes continued to rise.

Mrs Wong said the Government hoped to improve the shortage of spaces, but admitted it would take time.

She was confident the shortage could be cut by 40 per cent by 1997. There is a shortfall of 6,600 places for the elderly.

''What we hope to achieve is . . . to at least remove a major part of the shortfall,'' she said.

Independent legislator Hui Yin-fat worried whether there would be enough manpower to honour Mr Patten's promises.

Mrs Wong assured legislators that additional manpower would be available to go along with new facilities.

''In designing all the facilities, we have in parallel an implementing committee in each individual phase,'' she said.

''We must make sure, and we will make sure when the institutions are built, we have people to staff them.'' Meeting Point legislator Dr Leong Che-hung asked how the Government would implement its plan to provide care for the elderly at the regional or district level.

Mrs Wong said the Government planned to develop a network of nursing homes supported by medical and nursing facilities at the district level.

''We do have a district health system just launched under the pilot scheme in Kwun Tong,'' she said.

''And we want to develop that in seven other districts.'' She said the Government would line up private medical practitioners in the district to provide care.