Having served in Castle Peak Hospital for 35 years, retiring psychiatrist Cheung Hung-kin is happy to see more of his patients leaving the hospital and leading normal lives. 'In the past, the direction of psychiatric treatment was more hospital-based. In the 1980s, the hospital was so crowded that we had to remove furniture between beds and insert more beds. The conditions were very bad,' he recalled. Being the longest-serving doctor in the psychiatric hospital, Dr Cheung, 59, has witnessed many changes. After a 10-year, HK$2-billion redevelopment project, the hospital now looks like a holiday resort, and the wards are much more spacious. 'Hospitalisation actually may not be good for all mental patients because this can cause stigmatisation and increase their reliance,' said Dr Cheung, who was the hospital's medical superintendent between 1986 and 1993. 'Therefore, in the recent years, we have actively developed more outreach services. The government has also increased social facilities for the patients in the community.' Dr Cheung stressed that the reason for the change in policy was not to cut costs. He said outreach services could require more manpower and resources because staff had to leave the hospital on a regular basis. But patients had a right to lead normal lives, he added. 'Some people are worried that the mental patients may have violent tendencies, but we cannot treat patients like rubbish and think putting them in the trash - that is, in hospital - can solve the problem. 'It would be very unfair if we put all patients into the hospital while actually only 5 per cent of them may disturb society.' Under the changed policy, the number of inpatients decreased from a peak of 2,337 in 1988 to about 1,000 in October. In July, the last of the three patients who had been in the hospital since it opened in 1961 was discharged. Arrangements were made for the clinic's schizophrenic patient, now in his 70s, to live in a private home for the elderly. The two other patients were also discharged recently. Although the schizophrenic patient was not completely recovered, his condition was stable and he would not disturb others, Dr Cheung said. 'The patient has been hospitalised since he was in his 20s. He was transferred from the former psychiatric hospital in High Street,' he said. 'Like many mental patients, he was abandoned by his family years ago. We once wondered if he might refuse to leave because he had lived in the hospital for such a long time. But when he carried his luggage and walked out of the hospital, he did not turn his head and look back once.' The patient had received pre-discharge training and would be visited by community nurses regularly, Dr Cheung added. 'The acceptance of mental patients by society has increased and the government has provided more care. However, it's still hard to prevent isolated tragedies from happening,' he said.