Ageing society

The need to improve care for the elderly is urgent

Thousands are dying while waiting for a place in a care home, and the problem will only get worse as the population ages

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 12:56am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 12:56am

Thousands of elderly people die while waiting for a space in subsidised care homes in Hong Kong. This is of course nothing new. The figures nonetheless put our affluent city to shame: the sad news is that the death toll reached 6,104 last year, even though spending on such services increased.

That highlights the challenges facing the government. An additional HK$253 million will be spent to strengthen elderly care in 2017-18. This includes providing 149 additional subsidised residential care places and 25 day care places; and improving services at seven homes involving 499 subsidised residential and 85 day care places.

Welcoming as it is, the numbers of beneficiaries are minuscule compared to our elderly population. That explains why each year thousands do not live to get their turn.

The shortfall may become even more severe. According to projections, about one-third of our people will be aged 65 or above by 2041, compared with 16 per cent at present. The pressure for elderly care services in the coming decades will only get stronger.

Hong Kong will need 48 new elderly care homes every year unless demand is cut now, expert warns

Also in need of improvement is the protection of elderly rights. Our senior citizens are often seen as a burden to society. But they have the right to lead a dignified life like anyone else. According to a Chinese University study, the city is lagging behind in terms of elderly rights protection. Singapore requires employers to offer jobs to eligible people for five more years after they reach retirement age. In the US, a mandatory reporting system on elderly abuse is in place. All these are still alien to our society.

The study points to the need for a comprehensive law protecting the rights of the elderly. The idea is certainly as novel as it is debatable. Decades of discussions have failed to produce any consensus on outlawing age discrimination. The scope of the proposed legislation is even wider, covering medical treatment, working rights and protection from abuse.

Whether legislation is the best way to go is a matter for further discussion. But our elderly citizens will benefit if more residential and day care services are made available quickly.